US railroad unions warn of freight delays as contract deadline approaches

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Two unions negotiating contracts for nearly 60,000 workers at major U.S. freight railroads on Sunday said those employers were suspending shipments of some goods to gain leverage ahead of this week’s deadline. to enter into employment agreements.

Unions and railroads, including Union Pacific, Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern, have until one minute after midnight Friday to reach tentative agreements. Failure to do so opens the door to union strikes, employer lockouts and congressional intervention.

Late last week, the railways announced they would begin halting shipments of hazardous and toxic materials from Monday to ensure safety in the event of a strike.

“They’re locking in their customers…and further harming the supply chain in an effort to provoke congressional action,” Jeremy Ferguson, president of the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal Workers, air , Rail and Transportation (SMART-TD), and Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), said in a joint statement Sunday.

The impasse comes at a sensitive time for unions, railroads, shippers, consumers and President Joe Biden – who has appointed an emergency board to help break the impasse.

Widespread disruptions to railroads could choke off food and fuel supplies, create transportation chaos, fuel inflation and result in $2 billion a day in lost economic output.

As of Sunday, 8 of 12 unions had reached tentative agreements, the National Railroad Labor Conference (NRLC) said. These groups do not include SMART-TD and BLET, which represent about half of the 115,000 workers involved in the talks.

“The railroads do not believe a disruption to national service is inevitable, but the time has come when some customers will begin to be impacted if agreements are not reached,” the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said. about the industry’s decision to suspend dangerous shipments.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

Lynn A. Saleh