Rail Talks Trying to Avoid Nationwide Strike

The Dec. 6 end of the cooling off period triggered by the report of Presidential Emergency Board 243 is three weeks away.

Major U.S. freight railroads are working to agree on settlement terms with their unions with a Dec. 6 deadline in mind and a strong incentive to compromise: The railroad companies are humming and hiring, and everyone agrees this is no time for a strike or lockout.

As Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said Oct. 6 after President Obama appointed Presidential Emergency Board 243 to arbitrate national rail labor negotiations, "The nation's freight railroads are pleased the president has appointed a Presidential Emergency Board, preventing a potential national rail strike at a time when America's already fragile economic recovery can least afford it. We are hopeful the parties will swiftly reach an agreement, particularly given that 30 percent of the nation's rail labor workforce has already reached a highly generous pattern agreement with the railroads. Now is not the time, given so many Americans already are out of work, to undermine freight rail's vital role in the nation's economic recovery or the industry's efforts to hire as many as 15,000 people this year."

AAR reported Nov. 8 that 20 percent of those 15,000 new workers the railroads expect to hire this year will be military veterans.

The board issued its report and recommendations Nov. 5, which triggered a 30-day cooling off period. John P. Lanigan, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of BNSF, which already reached agreement with its largest union, the United Transportation Union, posted a Nov. 7 letter to customers predicting a settlement will be reached in time.

"We are confident the railroads will reach the agreements needed to avert a service interruption before the cooling off period ends at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, December 6," Lanigan wrote. "Congress passed the Railway Labor Act over 85 years ago. Since then, the vast majority of rail labor disputes have been peacefully resolved through its mechanisms. Even in those disputes, which went all the way to a PEB, Congress has been called upon to intervene only 8% of the time (14 out of 179 cases). The last time in our experience was in 1992 when the industry was shut down for one day before Congress passed final and binding back-to-work legislation."

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