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US rail unions are warning of loading delays as contract deadlines loom

Unions and railroads including Union Pacific, Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern have until one minute past midnight Friday to negotiate preliminary contracts. Failure to do so opens the door to union strikes, employer lockouts, and congressional interventions.

Late last week, railway companies said they would halt the movement of dangerous and toxic goods from Monday to ensure safety in the event of a strike.

“They’re alienating their customers … and causing further damage to the supply chain in an effort to push Congress into action,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the transportation division of the International Union of Sheet Metalworkers, Air, Rail and Railroad. Transport Workers (SMART-TD), and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Railway Workers (BLET) President Dennis Pearce in a joint statement on Sunday.

The plan comes at a critical time for unions, railroad companies, shippers, consumers and President Joe Biden — who has appointed an emergency council to break the impasse.

Widespread disruptions to railroads could disrupt food and fuel supplies, wreak havoc on transportation, fuel inflation and cost $2 billion a day in lost economic output.

According to the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), by Sunday, eight of the 12 unions had reached a tentative agreement. Those groups do not include SMART-TD and BLET, which represent about half of the 115,000 employees involved in the discussions.

“Railroad companies do not believe national service disruption is inevitable, but the time has come when some customers will begin to suffer if agreements are not reached,” the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said. Stop the traffic.

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