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Businesses and White House plan for possible Friday rail strike

By JOSH FUNK, AP Business Writer

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Business and government officials are bracing for the possibility of a nationwide railroad strike later this week as talks continue between America’s largest freight railroads and their unions. .

The railroads have already begun to cut shipments of hazardous materials and have announced plans to stop transporting refrigerated goods before Friday’s strike deadline. Now companies that depend on Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern and other railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished goods have started planning for the worst.

Meanwhile, Biden administration officials are scrambling to craft a plan to use trucks, ships and planes to try to keep the most crucial chemicals and other goods moving if the railroads stop rolling. But the White House is also keeping pressure on the two sides to settle their differences, and a growing number of business groups are pressuring Congress to be prepared to step in and block a strike if they fail. to an agreement.

“We have made it clear to interested parties the harm that American families, businesses, farmers and communities will suffer if they do not reach a resolution,” White House press secretary Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. Rock. She said a stoppage is “not acceptable”.

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In addition to all the businesses that depend on the railways to deliver their goods, passenger railways are also affected as many of them operate on tracks owned by one of the freight railways. Amtrak has already canceled several of its long-distance trains because there would not be enough time for them to reach their destinations before a strike or lockout is allowed to begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Amtrak has already suspended its California Zephyr and Empire Builder lines that run from Chicago to the West Coast, and starting Wednesday it will stop operating its City of New Orleans, Starlight and Texas Eagle lines along with several others.

Commuter railroads would also be affected. In Chicago, Metra warned its users that it could not run most of its trains in the event of a strike.

The railroads have reached tentative agreements with most of their unions, including a ninth agreement announced on Tuesday, based on recommendations from an emergency presidential council appointed this summer by Joe Biden, who called for increases of 24% and $5,000 in premiums in a five-year deal that’s retroactive to 2020. The deal also includes an additional paid day off per year and higher health insurance costs.

But the 12 railway unions must agree to prevent a strike. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union, which represents engineers, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, which represents conductors, want the railways to respond to some of their concerns about unpredictable work schedules and strict attendance. rules in addition to agreeing to recommended wage increases.

Ron Kaminkow, general secretary of the Railroad Workers United labor coalition, which includes workers from various railroad unions, said he doesn’t think the unions are demanding much at this stage – exactly the sort of thing most American workers already value the ability to take time off without being penalized.

“We have attendance policies that have become increasingly draconian. This provides very, very little wiggle room for workers who need time off for doctor’s appointments, to spend time with family, to rest,” Kaminkow said.

From Monday, all major railways suspended shipments of hazardous materials to ensure that these dangerous chemicals would not be blocked along the tracks in the event of a strike. Norfolk Southern has told customers it will also stop accepting shipments of intermodal containers full of freight from Wednesday evening as it prepares for “a controlled network shutdown”.

Some companies would probably be more affected than others by a rail shutdown. For example, almost all ethanol and coal and most grain is transported by rail.

Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim and Zeke Miller contributed to this report from Washington D.C.

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