White House receives plan to end rail contract dispute

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OMAHA, Neb. — The special counsel appointed by President Joe Biden to intervene in stalled rail contract talks submitted its recommendations to the White House on Tuesday on a potential deal covering 115,000 railroad workers and averting a strike, but details of their recommendations were not available. not immediately available.

The railways and the unions will use these recommendations as the basis for a new round of negotiations over the next month. If they still can’t agree on a new deal by mid-September, federal law would allow a strike or lockout, but Congress would have to step in before that to keep the supply chain going. movement.

A railroad strike could devastate businesses that rely on Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX and other major freight railroads to deliver raw materials and ship their products. That’s why Congress probably won’t authorize a strike. In previous national rail labor disputes, lawmakers have voted to impose conditions on the railroads before workers can strike.

A White House official said Biden was optimistic the report would provide a good framework for successful negotiations because avoiding a rail shutdown is in the nation’s interest.

The report was circulated to parties on Tuesday, but the railroads and unions did not immediately comment on details. It was not immediately clear how quickly the National Mediation Council would release the report online.

The railways entered the Emergency Presidential Council process a month ago, far short of the 12 participating unions. The unions demanded a 31% raise over the five years of the deal, while the railroads offered only 17% compound increases. Unions also don’t want to see the cost of their health coverage go up much in a new contract.

Railway workers have had no increase since 2019 while the contract talks about drugs. Workers expect to be compensated after staying on the job throughout the pandemic and suffering major job cuts in recent years. And strikes have become more common over the past two years in a variety of industries because unions generally feel empowered to demand more.

Major freight railways have cut almost a third of their jobs over the past six years by overhauling their operations to run fewer longer trains that require fewer locomotives and fewer employees. Unions say the railways expect more from workers who remain and that some railways’ tougher attendance policies are making furloughs more difficult due to all the job cuts.

In addition to disagreements over wages and benefits, unions have strongly opposed a railroad proposal to reduce the number of workers in a locomotive from two to one. A proposed new federal rule that would require two-man crews in most cases should make it harder for railroads to reduce crew sizes, but railroads have been pushing for change for several years. Unions say keeping two people on crews is not just a matter of preserving jobs, but also of safety.

Reaching a new deal would likely make it easier for the railroads to hire new staff, which they recognize they need to do to improve service and reduce the delays that have plagued freight shipments this year. The major freight railways have all said they want to hire hundreds more workers, but the shortage of workers is making this difficult.

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