The National Retail Federation is calling on Congress to intervene in case rail unions cannot reach an agreement with operators.
The NRF said a rail strike during the holidays would be “devastating for American businesses, consumers and the U.S. economy.”
“American businesses and families are already facing increased prices due to persistent inflation, and a rail strike will create greater inflationary pressures and will threaten business resiliency. Congress must intervene immediately to avoid a rail strike and a catastrophic shutdown of the freight rail system,” said NRF CEO Matthew Shay.
The sides agreed to postpone any strikes until Dec. 9. Twelve rail unions have banded together to say if one strikes, they all strike. As of now, four unions rejected terms.
The possibility of a rail strike has been on the horizon for months. The Biden administration got involved during the summer by getting the sides to hold off on a strike during a 60-day cooling-off period in July. That period expires in September.
During that time, the Presidential Emergency Board came up with a recommended contract for the sides, which included a 24% compounded wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, with a 14.1% wage increase effective immediately for union employees. The retroactive pay increase would provide an average of $11,000 per employee in back pay.
The recommendation also would give employees additional paid time off and cap employee insurance contributions at 15%.
In September, the Biden administration worked out talks between union and business leaders. The sides at the time reached a tentative deal.
“It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years,” President Joe Biden said. “These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned.”
While Biden is unable to prevent a strike, Congress can intervene if need be. It is a scenario that the Association of American Railroad foresees.
“Congress has historically intervened to prevent rail system disruptions. If the four unions remain unwilling to enter agreements within the bounds of the PEB’s framework, Congress must be prepared to act and institute the terms supported by the majority of the unions, guaranteeing certainty for rail customers and the broader economy,” the organization said.