Chamber: Freight rail strike would ‘wreak havoc,’ Congress should prepare ‘to act’

One of the largest business groups in Washington, the Chamber of Commerce, called on Congress Thursday to stop a potential strike by freight rail employees in the middle of the holiday shopping season.

Negotiations between freight rail companies and a group of unions representing component parts appeared this week to have broken down. Absent an agreement, the unions can strike after a Dec. 6 deadline set by the Obama administration.

Chamber of Commerce vice president of government affairs Bruce Josten said in a letter to lawmakers that was obtained by The Hill that Congress should step in to make sure that doesn't happen. 

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"In any labor dispute, it is highly desirable that a resolution be reached by agreement of the parties to the dispute," Josten wrote.

"However, should an agreement not be reached, the exercise of self-help could cause massive disruptions in our economy at a time when we can least afford it," he said.

Several of the unions that represent parts of the freight rail industry agreed earlier this month to extend a “cooling-off period” for negotiations before strikes could ensue until at least February. But the group negotiating for the railroads, the National Railway Labor Conference, said two of the 13 unions, the American Train Dispatchers Association and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, have not accepted the terms of the deal.


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.

With that in mind, Josten said a freight rail strike "would severely disrupt commerce across the country, wreak havoc on supply chains, inhibit the export of U.S. goods and even disable intercity and commuter rail service."

"Altogether, these disruptions would cost the U.S. economy up to $2 billion per day," he said in the letter to lawmakers.  "For these reasons, while we strongly hope that the parties will be able to reach agreement among themselves, we urge you to be prepared to act to consider the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board if necessary to avert a shutdown of our nation’s rail system." 

House GOP leaders have indicated that they are considering intervening to stop a potential strike.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said this week 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.

Other business lobbying groups like the National Retail Federation have also urged Congress to step in.