US rail talks continue, Congress set to block national strike

30 November 2011 20:18  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Talks between railroad operators and unions are continuing, a spokeswoman for rail companies said on Wednesday, but the US Congress may step in to block a nationwide rail strike if necessary before the 6 December strike deadline.

Talks between three unions and the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) were continuing, said Joanna Moorhead, NRLC spokeswoman.

“We are trying to get an agreement by December 5,” she said. 

The NRLC represents the major US railroads in discussions with unions.

At midnight on Monday, 5 December, a 60-day presidential hold on unions’ right to strike is scheduled to expire, meaning that union workers could begin walking off the job across the nation on 6 December.

In early October, President Barack Obama established a presidential emergency board (PEB) to mediate in the talks between NRLC and the 13 unions representing various railroad workers.

The emergency board put forward recommended settlement terms on 5 November, and 10 of the 13 unions have come to terms. But three others are still holding out, apparently over pay issues.

In anticipation of a possible nationwide rail strike – which would essentially shut down US commerce – congressional leaders said on Tuesday that they would rush legislation through the House in order to block a strike.

House Speaker John Boehner (Republican-Ohio) said that while he hoped that the labour negotiations would resolve remaining differences without congressional action, “the House is prepared to take legislative action in the days ahead to avert a job-destroying shutdown of our nation’s railroads”.

“We are following with concern the situation involving our nation’s railways, and we are troubled by the possibility of a national railway strike that would jeopardise American jobs and cost our nation’s economy an estimated $2bn [€1.5bn] per day,” Boehner said.

He said a nationwide rail strike was “unacceptable” and said he was confident that Obama and Democrat leaders in the Senate would join Republicans in the House in legislation to bar a strike.

A rail strike would devastate US chemical industry feedstock and product shipping, much of which moves by rail freight.

($1 = €0.75)

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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