Speaker Boehner says House could move to stop strike by railway workers

GOP leaders in the House are prepared to intervene to stop a strike by freight rail employees in the middle of the holiday shopping season. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-V.a) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday if a group of unions representing parts of the freight rail industry do not reach a labor agreement before the Dec. 6 deadline, they would hold a vote on legislation to prevent the unions from going on strike.

“We are following with concern the situation involving our nation’s railways, and we are troubled by the possibility of a national railway strike that would jeopardize American jobs and cost our nation’s economy an estimated $2 billion per day," the lawmakers said in a statement Tuesday. 

The leaders said they are "confident" that the Senate and President Obama would support such a move.

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"While our hope is that the parties involved will find common ground and resolve the situation without congressional involvement, the House is prepared to take legislative action in the days ahead to avert a job-destroying shutdown of our nation’s railroads, in the event such legislation proves necessary," they continued. "A shutdown of our nation’s railways, which would harm our economy and endanger many American jobs, is unacceptable. We are confident President Obama and the leaders of the Senate agree.”

The National Railway Labor Conference said earlier this month that 10 of 13 unions representing freight rails had come to agreements, but the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the American Train Dispatchers Association and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen remained outstanding.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees has agreed to extend the "cooling off period" for negotiations until at least February, the NRLC said last week, but the latter unions have not followed suit.  

Kenneth Gradia, chairman of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which is representing railroads companies in the negotiations, said it was important to “maximize the chances of voluntary agreements.

"It is critical to the national interest to make every reasonable effort to avoid the threatened service disruption during the busy holiday shipping season and potentially cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day,” he said.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation agreed.

"For retailers, a strike during the busy holiday shopping season could be devastating," NRF President Matthew Shay wrote in a letter to Congress. "It is imperative that Congress recognize the severe economic harm threatened by the failure to reach agreement with the remaining rail unions and move quickly to prevent a rail strike that would prove devastating to both businesses and consumers."