Shipper and transportation groups are increasing pressure on Congress to avert a potential national rail stoppage, as the deadline for striking an agreement with two unions nears amid the peak holiday shipping season.
The two unions representing dispatchers and locomotive engineers could go strike Dec. 6 after a 30-day “cooling” off period expires. The major U.S. freight railroads have reached contract agreements with 10 of the 13 unions, and the 11th union, representing maintenance workers, has agreed to extend its deadline until Feb. 10.
Shippers are urging Congress to apply the terms of a recently appointed President Emergency Board if rail management and the unions fail to come to an accord. The Retail Industry Leaders Association said the U.S. economy would lose $2 billion every day rail service was stopped, largely because shippers would have to shift loads to costlier trucking companies.
“We urge Congress to exercise its power to step in to keep the flow of goods moving and avert an avoidable economic catastrophe. Such a significant interruption of supply chains at this critical time would have a broad and dramatic effect, while interfering with retailers’ ability to provide customers with the items they seek during the holidays and beyond,” said RILA President Sandy Kennedy.
The National Grain and Feed Association urged Congress extend the cooling-off period if the two rail unions fail to come to an agreement by Friday. There is also concern of potential clogging at ports if shippers aren’t able to load and unload rail cars.
“Approximately $3.8 billion in cargo is moved through America’s seaports daily. A significant portion of this cargo relies on the freight rail system to reach its destination,” said American Association of Port Authorities President and CEO Kurt Nagle.