Biden, unions, rail execs fight for deal as shutdown looms

Biden, unions, rail execs fight for deal as shutdown looms
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DETROIT/LOS ANGELES, Sept 14 (Reuters) – Biden administration officials arranged talks on labor contracts on Wednesday night to avert a possible rail closure that could disrupt cargo shipments and impede food and fuel supplies, but a small union rejected a deal and Amtrak called off the whole thing. long-distance passenger travel.

Railroads, including Union Pacific (UNP.N)Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRKa.N) BNSF and Norfolk Southern (NSC.N) It has until a minute after midnight on Friday to reach agreements with three resisting unions representing some 60,000 workers before a work stoppage affecting freight and Amtrak can begin.

Talks between the unions and the railroads, which began at 9 a.m., were still ongoing more than 12 hours later, past 9 p.m. ET, Wednesday at the U.S. Department of Labor headquarters in Washington.

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The talks are being overseen by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, with input from other US officials. The parties ordered Italian food for dinner on Wednesday in order to continue discussions.

“Everyone is going to have to move a little bit to get a deal done,” Buttigieg told reporters on the sidelines of the Detroit Auto Show.

A union representing some 4,900 machinists, mechanics and maintenance personnel said Wednesday that its members voted to reject a tentative agreement.

Rail workers have gone three years without a raise amid a contract dispute, while rail companies have posted solid profits.

In current talks, the industry has offered annual salary increases from 2020 to 2024, equivalent to a 24% compound increase. Three of the 12 unions, representing about half of the 115,000 workers affected by the negotiations, are calling for better working conditions.

Two of those 12 unions, representing more than 11,000 workers, have ratified deals, the National Conference of Carriers Committee (NCCC), which is negotiating on behalf of the railroads, said on Wednesday.

Unions are enjoying a surge in public and worker support in the wake of the pandemic, when “essential” employees risked exposure to COVID-19 to keep goods moving and employers made big profits, labor experts say. and corporate.

A shutdown could freeze nearly 30% of US freight shipments by weight, stoke inflation, cost the US economy up to $2 billion a day, and trigger a cascade of transportation problems that would affect the US energy, agriculture, manufacturing and retail sectors.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One that shutting down the freight rail system would be an “unacceptable outcome for our economy and the American people and all parties must work to prevent it.” “.


The administration of President Joe Biden has begun making contingency plans to ensure the delivery of critical goods in the event of a shutdown.

The stakes are high for Biden, who has vowed to rein in rising consumer costs ahead of the November election that will determine whether his fellow Democrats retain control of Congress.

“Unless they make a breakthrough soon, rail workers are going to strike this Friday. If you don’t think that’s going to have a negative impact on our economy … think again,” said US Senator John Cornyn, a Republican and critic of Biden. .

Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday night opposed a Republican attempt to unanimously pass legislation to prevent a rail strike, pointing to the gains the rail industry has made.

If agreements are not reached, employers could also fire workers. The railroads and unions may agree to stay at the negotiating table, or the Democrat-led US Congress could step in by extending the talks or setting the terms of a deal. read more

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was unclear whether Congress would intervene, noting that the main problem is a lack of sick leave for workers.

Amtrak, which uses tracks maintained by freight railroads, said it would cancel all long-distance trips on Thursday and some additional state-supported trains. read more

Rail hubs in Chicago and Dallas were already clogged and experiencing equipment shortages before the contract showdown. Those bottlenecks are delaying cargo at US seaports for up to a month. And, once cargo reaches rail hubs in places like Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City and Memphis, Tennessee, it can wait another month or more.

Package delivery company United Parcel Service (UPS.N)one of the largest rail customers in the US, and US seaports said they are working on contingency plans.

Meanwhile, factory owners are concerned about idle machinery, while automakers fear a shutdown could extend vehicle buyers’ waiting times. Elsewhere, food and energy companies are warning that additional service interruptions could lead to even steeper price increases.

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Reporting by David Shepardson and Lisa Baertlein; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason aboard Air Force One; Joe White in Detroit; Chris Walljasper in Chicago and Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bangalore; Edited by Will Dunham, Jonathan Oatis, Bill Berkrot and Michael Perry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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