The U.S. freight rail industry is looking for President Obama to step into a labor dispute affecting most major railroads and many of their unions, before a Thursday midnight deadline would allow strikes or lockouts to begin.
Train engineers, track repair crews and a host of other workers are almost at the end of a 30-day countdown to self-help action that could begin at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 7, after the National Mediation Board last month released workers from its oversight of stalled contract talks.
To avoid union strikes or company lockouts of workers starting Friday, Obama would need to appoint a Presidential Emergency Board to work with both sides over the next 30 days. Sources believe the White House is drawing up the PEB order, which would prevent any near-term disruption of freight shipments at a time the economy is barely averting a recession.
On Monday, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen reported that 97 percent of its members voted to authorize a strike to take effect on Friday if the president has not intervened before then.
If the PEB comes as expected and at after another month there is still no final agreement, the railroads and unions would face a final 30-day cooling off period before either side could legally take work actions. That could put any final resolution into December, past the autumn peak shipping season for intermodal and crop cargoes.
Railroads represented by the National Railway Labor Conference include all major U.S.-owned carriers plus the U.S. operations of Canadian Pacific Railway and some terminal railroads or short lines.
They earlier reached agreement with train conductors and some other workers in the United Transportation Union, the single largest rail labor group, but the other unions in the current talks do not want to accept the UTU’s contract terms to apply to all the rest.