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Citing supply chain concerns, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined other transportation stakeholders in calling on the White House to assist with labor disputes in the freight rail sector.
Suzanne Clark, the chamber’s CEO, argued recently that White House-level assistance with appointing a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) would be useful in avoiding supply chain connectivity disruptions across the freight sector.
Major rail firms and elements of the freight-rail labor force continue to negotiate key parameters and terms related to work rules, guidelines and benefits. President Joe Biden is expected to appoint a PEB to facilitate talks between the railroads and employees. The aim would be for the parties to ultimately arrive at a labor agreement.
“It is imperative that the administration act to prevent any disruption to America’s rail service,” Clark wrote the president on July 6. “Unless the administration acts, either party is free to exercise ‘self-help’ options.”
Clark emphasized that absent a presence from the White House, there would be potential for labor disruptions that could culminate in a strike as early as this month.
“The U.S. business community faces enormous challenges today from record inflation, labor shortages, and ongoing supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And we are now facing uncertainty over the possibility of further disruptions during preparations for the holiday shopping season,” she continued. “Any breakdown would be disastrous for U.S. consumers and the economy, and potentially return us to the historic supply chain challenges during the depths of the pandemic.”
Copied on the Chamber’s letter to the White House were Secretaries Marty Walsh and Pete Buttigieg, who represent the labor and transportation departments, respectively. The Chamber’s message to Biden came on the heels of a similar viewpoint expressed by American Trucking Associations to the president and congressional leaders.
“We feel that the appointment of a [Presidential Emergency Board] consisting of respected, experienced and impartial arbitrators who can issue credible recommendations and help secure a reasonable agreement is imperative,” ATA President Chris Spear wrote to Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the bipartisan congressional leadership on June 24. “Not only would the appointment of such a board be consistent with past precedent across political parties, but it would also send a signal to the negotiating parties, as well as the large number of rail customers like ATA members, that policymakers want an agreement above all else and will not tolerate rail service disruptions.”
Freight railroad firms and unions recently reached a stalemate in their negotiations over a labor contract. Negotiations involving the two sides have been ongoing for more than two years.
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The National Mediation Board had been facilitating talks between the parties. The independent agency mediates in sectors that include the railway and airline industries.
Last month, Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, affirmed the labor groups’ viewpoint during the ongoing negotiations. “Our goal from the beginning of this process has been to deliver a contract that rail workers deserve, and that they can ratify, particularly as the railroads are raking in their highest-ever profits on the backs of workers,” Regan said. “We will continue to adhere to the letter of the law in the contract negotiation process, while rail workers — who have not received a pay raise in three years — continue their work as frontline pandemic heroes who are moving cargo and goods through the supply chain.”