So, there’s still a possible rail strike hanging over the nation’s head

If this doesn’t sound like recycling old news over and over again, it should, because it is. But the problem is, it’s never actually been completely resolved from when we started bringing it up in September. A cascade of unions have come on board at each do-or-die juncture, with an ever-shrinking number of hold-outs agreeing to more negotiations, and, consequently, kicking a strike date back. There are just a few of those left, and they may be digging in.

SMART-TD, one of the largest railroad labor unions, voted down a tentative agreement with rail management, raising the likelihood of a strike in December. The BLET, the other largest union, voted to ratify the labor deal but said it will honor the picket line.

…The BMWED, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, is scheduled to strike Dec. 5 with the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, or BRS. But BMWED announced it would extend its cooling-off period if one of the larger unions voted not to ratify the tentative labor deal. The BRS has not indicated whether it will extend its deadline for talks.

SMART-TD, BMWED and BRS represent more than 50% of all rail labor.

So the threat remains. Even as negotiations are ongoing, significant disruptions are in the works (as the September strike drill illustrated), because rail traffic doesn’t shut down overnight. All compounded by the holiday season.

… “AAR data show that there was a drop of 1,975 carloads of chemical shipments during the week of September 10 when the railroads stopped accepting shipments due to the threat of a strike,” Jeff Sloan, ACC’s senior director of transportation policy, recently told CNBC. “We would expect a similar dramatic reduction in chemical shipments if an embargo were to take place this month.”

Other industries, from agriculture to retail, have warned of the economic risks of a strike.

UPS, which is the rails’ largest customer, said in a statement to CNBC that it has the capabilities to help manage the situation if an agreement is not reached, which includes its flexible and integrated smart logistics network. “Our network planning tools also enable extensive coordination across UPS facilities around the world, including preemptively rerouting packages to alternative lanes to minimize unexpected disruption for our customers,” the statement said.

Based on the September strike preparation guidelines, if the BRS sticks with their strike date of Dec. 5, strike prep is expected to begin Nov. 28, the day the Senate arrives back from Thanksgiving break. The House is back on the Hill on Nov. 29.

The four unsigned unions announced Tuesday that they had all “aligned” their “staus quo periods” – in other words, synchronized their walk-out dates – which triggers the strike planning federal safety measures.

The alignment of the four unions that have voted not to ratify a labor deal has provided a clear timeline for strike prep plans among the freight railroads and with sensitive cargo including chemicals.

…According to federal safety measures, railroad carriers begin prepping for a strike seven days before the strike date. The carriers start to prioritize the securing and movement of security-sensitive materials like chlorine for drinking water and hazardous materials in the rail winddown.

Ninety-six hours before a strike date, chemicals are no longer transported. According to the American Chemistry Council, railroad industry data shows a drop of 1,975 carloads of chemical shipments during the week of September 10 when the railroads stopped accepting shipments due to the previous threat of a strike.

The Association of American Railroads would be expected to release its planning steps, similar to what it announced in September.

Estimates of a strike’s impact on the American economy are as high as $2B/day. The Biden administration has been taking heat for some time for what’s been seen as their laissez-faire (re: non-existent) approach to averting the possibility of such a devastating blow to the nation’s already struggling financial state. And, in the face of a Christmas railway catastrophe, are taking some well-earned heat for their earlier, ill-considered football spiking.

...- Too soon? –
The risk of a major labor dispute actually has existed for months, with the White House narrowly averting a strike in September.

In a self-congratulatory move, the president welcomed labor leaders to the Oval Office on September 15 to celebrate an agreement in principle, after hours of intense negotiations that had stalled in particular on the issue of sick leave.

Biden at the time went as far as to hail “a big win for America” during a speech in the Rose Garden.

The presidential celebration now appears premature. That agreement still required the ratification from members of the 12 unions in question, but four of the labor groups do not support it.

Here it is darn near December and those same four unions are the ones fixin’ to hike.

Way to go, Brandon!

The unions are pretty firm in their solidarity.

One of the largest rail labor unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), will honor the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) strike date of December 5, the first date upon which a rail union to reject the proposed labor deal with freight railroad companies can strike.

“Our members will certainly honor the picket line of BRS,” BLET president Dennis Pierce told CNBC. “I think every union will.”

…“Even though they did vote for it, we still got a lot of no votes,” Pierce said. “There’s still a lot of acrimony out there. And I think you can see the evidence of that in the turnout of the SMART-TD vote. So we still have a lot of work to do. There’s a whole lot of anger. Folks are still not pleased,” he said.

It’s not money. Quality of life issues are still the biggest sticking point.

…The anger, Pierce said, centers around quality of life issues which have been a sticking point throughout negotiations with rail management, which have offered significant pay raises and one-time lump sum distributions to workers. Access to time off is one of the components of the BLET agreement, and rail unions have been pushing to make federal contractor sick pay policies a permanent benefit for union members. BMWED and BRS had another round of talks scheduled with railroad carriers Monday afternoon on federal sick pay.

So there’s where we stand going into Thanksgiving.

Except…there’s been a rare sighting. And I can almost feel…

…the doom.

Where’s he been ALL THIS TIME?

This is like seeing Jim Cantori on Pensacola Beach.

Nobody wants it. It never, ever means anything good.



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