Manufacturing groups urge Congress to stop pending rail strike

Manufacturing and business groups from eight Midwestern states sent a letter to Capitol Hill on Tuesday urging congressional action, if necessary, to stop a possible rail strike that could stress an already struggling supply chain.

The letter follows similar steps taken from agriculture and shipping organizations across the country as a 12:01 a.m. Friday strike deadline looms for freight rail worker unions from 12 railroads. The 12 unions account for 115,000 workers.

A strike could shut down more than 7,000 trains that operate nationwide on any given day, according to Jamie Karl, managing director of communications for the Ohio Manufacturers Association.

“This issue is prominently on the OMA’s radar,” Karl said. “Such a strike would severely impact Ohio's manufacturing sector, significantly straining an already disrupted supply chain. For the sake of the U.S. manufacturing economy and national security, this strike must be averted.”

Joining the OMA in the letter were the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Associated Industries of Missouri, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, Indiana Manufacturers Association and the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

The groups did not release the letter until Wednesday.

Sens. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, and Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, introduced a resolution Tuesday that if passed would prevent a strike if contract negotiations fail.

The resolution calls for recommendations by the Presidential Emergency Board be adopted. Those recommendations include what Burr called significant wage increases for workers retroactive to 2020.

“A rail worker strike would be catastrophic for America’s transportation system and already-stressed supply chain,” Burr said in a news release. “The Presidential Emergency Board recommendations are a fair and appropriate solution to a years-long negotiation process, but labor unions are continuing to hold the entire nation’s rail system hostage as they demand more. The Biden Administration should reject labor union’s bullying tactics. This resolution would provide certainty for Americans who have a right to travel and work freely across state lines.”

A strike, according to the Association of American Railroads, could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day. Rail moves 28% of U.S. freight, according to federal data.

According to Burr’s news release, the rail industry and rail unions have been in contract talks since 2019. In July, President Biden appointed a Presidential Emergency Board to investigate and make recommendations.

The recommendations included a 24% wage increase, plus $1,000 annual bonuses to be applied retroactively back to 2020. They also included increased health care and other benefits. Not all of the unions agreed.

Under the Railway Labor Act, Congress has stepped in and stopped rail disruptions at least 18 times in the past, Burr said.

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