Concerned about the economy, President Joe Biden acted quickly Friday to stop 115,000 US railway workers from striking as scheduled early Monday morning.
Almost 30 per cent of the country’s freight would have been halted if a walkout had taken place.
Biden was able to thwart a strike by appointing a board to negotiate a new labour contract for those workers, who were covered by distinct labour legislation from the rest of the nation’s workers.
Interstate commerce “may be severely disrupted to the point that a significant portion of the country would be deprived of crucial transportation services.
Biden wrote in his directive late Friday afternoon. However, Biden’s move may only be a temporary fix, as the clock is now ticking towards a probable 60-day work stoppage.
There is a 30-day deadline for the Presidential Executive Board to come up with a solution that all parties can agree on. The second 1-month “cooling off” time would commence if neither side accepts the first proposal.
In mid-September, when the second cooling-off period ends, the 12 railroad employees’ unions can either go on strike or lock out their members and try and convince Congress to enforce a labour contract more in line with their interests.
Supply chain problems and labour discontent have been on the rise recently, and it appears that they may come together in the following months, costing US consumers more money or preventing them from acquiring the things they want and need.
Profits Bellowed, But So Did Union Wrath
The labour movement and its members are engaged and ready to go on strike. Even as major railroads, like Union Pacific (UNP), Norfolk Southern (NSC) & Berkshire Hathaway (BRKABurlington )’s Northern Santa Fe have recorded record earnings, they have not received a raise in three years.
Understaffing, according to the unions, is also a major source of unfavourable working conditions. More than 30,000 railroad workers have lost their jobs since the previous contract was signed in 2017, or nearly 20% of the workforce.
Dennis Pierce, chairman of the Union of Locomotive Operators and Trainmen, said, “We’re in the third year after negotiations and we’re getting nowhere.
” It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the band this frustrated and enraged.
Due to a lack of staff, he claimed, many employees are obliged to be on the job or call seven days a week.
Employee turnover is alarmingly high since the company doesn’t treat its workers like they’re about to keep them. “They’re having a hard time finding new employees. People are starting to realise that these aren’t exactly glamorous jobs.”
According to him, inflation rates of above 10% mean that the usual annual hikes of 3% in previous contracts are no longer acceptable.
If a deal can be reached, it is expected to include retroactive wage rises for 2020 and 2021 as well as large raises for this year, the Main Railway Labor Conference.
which represents management on behalf of the major railways, says. According to management, union workers at the railroads are paid an average of $130,000 per year.
The Railroad Industry Problem of Big Business
Railroad management has enraged more than just the unions.
Several of the nation’s major corporations, as well as shippers that rely on railroads to transport their goods, have voiced their dissatisfaction with train service to the Mass Transit Commission, one of the federal bodies charged with overseeing railroads.
Several businesses, such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the world’s largest food processor, have voiced concerns about the railroads’ “inadequate service” as a result of the existing staffing levels.
For example, “ADM cannot tell each railroad however many crew members or locomotives it should have, what gear they should purchase, or which operating systems they should use for their business,” the company stated.
When it comes to the railroads, ADM just has to know that whichever technologies they adopt, the railroads can meet our service criteria.
Supply chain difficulties in the U.S. have been blamed on deteriorating labour relations and service quality, according to experts.
According to Pete Swan, a Penn State logistics and operations professor, “staffing concerns” are currently the train industry’s most concerning issue.
“Engineers are trained for months at a time. They were caught off guard. Rail industry labour relations are among the worst I’ve seen before, and that’s saying something considering how horrible they’ve been in the past.”
Single Employee Trains Are Being Considered
One of the two staff members now employed on each railway, a director, is being asked for approval to be removed by management in most of the nation.
However, they are skilled workers who really can assume over for an emergency and act as a backup set of eyes while the train is in motion, even though they don’t drive the train.
Current protective gear designed to halt a train when it goes fast and is out of position, management claims, renders the second person unnecessary.
Re-deploy those people to fixed locations on the ground, where they can perform several of these activities, for greater efficiency.
The unions, not surprisingly, say the notion is a non-starter and poses a significant safety risk to the workers and the communities through which trains go.
Finding Common Ground is Proving Difficult
The labour-management divide predicts that no agreement will be reached during the PEB’s 30-day search process or the 30-day cooling-off period that follows.
When that happens, Congress may have to step in and try to negotiate a contract that it can impose just on two parties.
However, with the Midterm elections just around the corner, trying to find common ground on virtually anything in Parliament has proven tough.
“We’re in the midst of an election season. Everyone dreads being accused of causing a supply chain shutdown “Pierce commented.
Freight train operations might come to a halt across the country if Congress fails to approve legislation during the 30-day cooling-off period.
An official statement from the railroad’s management company stated that they were happy with Biden’s actions.
According to the statement, “It remains in the finest interest of all parties, as well as of the public, for the railroads and rail labour organisations to promptly settle this round of bargaining on reasonable terms that would provide employees with timely and well-deserved pay increases and protect rail service disruption.”
The president’s action was anticipated, according to a joint statement from the unions.
“Our unified case will demonstrate that the demands of the unions are supported by current economic facts and are more than deserved when matched to our memberships’ contribution towards the record profits of rail carriers,” they stated.
Workers, shippers, consumers, and perhaps even railroads themselves have complained that the restrictions on union members’ ability to strike have made it increasingly challenging to reach an agreement that benefits all of these parties.
“Members have decided to go on strike. That is something that should not be discounted by anyone “Pierce said this. “If this can be resolved.
I believe that many shippers would welcome a slap in the face for the railways. Having the power for unions to strike would have resulted in a settlement in 2019.”
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