President Obama, moving to prevent a potential strike against major U.S. railroads, named a five-person presidential emergency board on Thursday to review contract disputes between the railroads and most of their unions
Obama said in a statement released by the White House that he took the action to prevent “unnecessary damage” to the economy.
The move averts a possible nationwide strike by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, that could have started just after midnight. The union voted earlier to authorize a strike effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday unless the president intervened.
By creating a review board, Obama puts off any potential strike or lockout of workers by the freight railroads until at least early December. That would put a final deadline past the peak rail shipping season that is now under way and lasts through autumn, but a major strike at any time could tip the fragile economy into recession.
“Freight rail is vital to our economy and our future,” the president said. “It’s in our national interest to make sure our freight rail system runs smoothly, since a disruption could affect businesses across the country and cause unnecessary damage to our already fragile economy.”
The largest rail labor group, the United Transportation Union, that mainly represents train conductors, previously agreed to a contract with the railroads. But train engineers, track workers and many others continued to negotiate for separate contract terms.
Obama’s PEB will have 30 days to report its findings and recommend ways to resolve issues separating the two sides. But if they reject the board’s recommendations they would face another 30 days of a cooling-off period before they could take labor actions against each other.
The president said the five experienced arbitrators he plans to appoint are Ira Jaffe as the PEB chairman, plus Roberta Gollick, Joshua Javits, Gil Vernon and Arnold Zack. “I trust them to work toward a swift and smooth resolution of these outstanding contracts,” Obama said.
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