Deal to avert freight rail strike appears dead

An agreement to prevent a strike by freight rail employees in the middle of the holiday shopping season appears to have fallen apart, officials representing rail companies in the negotiations said Wednesday. 

A group of unions representing parts of the freight rail industry had agreed to extend a cooling-off period for negotiations before strikes could ensue. But the National Railway Labor Conference said two of the 13 unions that represent parts of the freight industry have not accepted the terms of the deal.

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The railroads have made and will continue to make every effort to reach agreements with the remaining three unions, A. Kenneth Gradia, chairman of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), said in a news release. During the busiest shipping and travel period of the year, a nationwide disruption of rail service would deal a crushing blow to our nation’s economy, potentially costing our country $2 billion a day.”

The current deadline for the negotiations is Dec. 6.

Gradia said the outstanding unions, the American Train Dispatchers Association and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, should reconsider their stances before then. A third union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, agreed to the deal with the NCCC, but the committee does not consider its acceptance valid without the agreement of the other two unions.
 
“The Presidential Emergency Board appointed by President Obama to help avert such an outcome made recommendations for the resolution of these disputes,” Gradia said. “The railroads — and eight other unions — have agreed to implement these settlement terms, which reflect the Board’s careful consideration of both sides’ arguments. We urge the remaining unions to reach agreements with the railroads before December 6.”

Earlier this week, GOP leaders in the House said they would consider intervening to stop a strike that could derail the holiday shopping season.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said Tuesday that if the 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 them from striking.

“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 Republican leaders said in a news release.

Business lobbying groups, such as the Washington-based National Retail Federation, have urged the unions to come to an agreement as well.

“For retailers, a strike during the busy holiday shopping season could be devastating,” NRF President Matthew Shay wrote this week 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.”

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