Unions blow up train movement to delay shipments before TBEN

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OMAHA, Neb. (TBEN) – The heads of the country’s two largest railroad unions said on Sunday that freight railroads’ move to delay some shipments ahead of this week’s looming strike TBEN is just an attempt to get shippers to ease pressure on Congress. to intervene and block a work stoppage by imposing a contract on employees.

The heads of the unions representing engineers and conductors – the sheet metal, air, rail and transportation workers union – the transportation department union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union – have issued a joint statement blowing up the move, which the railways announced at the end of Friday. A strike or lockout won’t be allowed until next Friday, but the railways appear to be bracing for one by saying they will begin curtailing shipments of hazardous materials and other chemicals on Monday to ensure that car loads containing those dangerous products are not stranded along the tracks when the trains stop running.

“The railroads are using shippers, consumers and our nation’s supply chain as pawns in an effort to get our unions to meet their contract demands, knowing our members would never accept them. Our unions will not yield to these terrifying tactics, and Congress must not yield to what can only be described as corporate terrorism,” said Jeremy Fergunson of SMART-TD and Dennis Pierce of the BLET union.

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Those two unions have demanded that CSX, Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern and the other railroads go beyond the proposed deal recommended by a group of arbitrators named President Joe Biden. They want them to allay concerns about strict attendance policies that they say are making it difficult to take time off and increasing workload after railroads cut nearly a third of their workforce in recent years.

The rail trade group has said there is no way trucks will be able to cope with the slack if the railroads stop running, as it would take about 467,000 additional trucks a day to carry all the freight trains and there is already a shortage of truck drivers.

Five of the 12 railroad unions representing 115,000 workers had already reached preliminary agreements based on the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations that will deliver 24% pay increases and $5,000 in bonuses over a five-year contract retroactive to 2020. coalition negotiating on behalf of the railways announced three more preliminary agreements on Sunday, so deals for about 45,000 workers have now been announced. Union members with preliminary deals have yet to vote on it.

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If the two sides can’t agree on a deal by the end of the week, Congress is expected to step in to block a strike because of the dire economic consequences if a strike occurs, as so many companies depend on railroads to supply their raw materials. and finished products. The trade group Association of American Railroads released a report last week estimating that the economy would take a $2 billion a day if trains stopped running and passenger traffic was disrupted across the country as Amtrak and many commuter railroads use it. making tracks owned by the freight railways.

A spokeswoman for the trade group said on Sunday that railways had to take action to prepare for the possibility of a work stoppage as the TBEN is so close, but the industry remains committed to trying to negotiate deals with its unions.

“Operational changes necessary to prepare for a safe, orderly suspension were delayed for as long as possible. With less than a week away from a potential service interruption, carriers are required to take appropriate steps to prepare, including making plans for handling HAZMAT shipments, as well as other freight that may be affected if service is to be reduced or discontinued,” an AAR spokeswoman said.

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A number of trade groups representing railroad shippers have already urged lawmakers to be prepared to block a strike. A coalition of 31 agricultural groups sent a letter to Congress last week, and the trade group Fertilizer Institute joined the chorus of shippers concerned on Saturday as shipments of ammonia and other fertilizers are delayed.

“Supply chains are already tense and there is currently no elasticity in rail transport,” said Corey Rosenbusch, TFI president and CEO. “This situation is going to get exponentially worse every day. There is no solution.”

He said more than half of all fertilizer is transported by railways. More than 75% of all finished vehicles are transported by train from factories to dealers, and countless other products are transported by rail.

The rail trade group said a single rail car can carry up to 2,000 UPS packages, or enough plastic pellets to make some two million two-liter bottles.