Ag shippers monitor rail negotiations
Agricultural shippers are anxiously monitoring contract negotiations between the National Carriers’ Conference Committee — representing the nation’s leading railroads — and a collection of 12 unions representing 140,000 railroad workers, the Soy Transportation Coalition said in an email on Monday.
“If an agreement between the two sides is not reached by 12:01 am on Friday, Sept. 16, a railroad strike, lockout, or slowdown is possible,” Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, noted in the email.
“The negotiations between the two parties have been ongoing for a couple years, but have not resulted in an agreement,” Steenhoek explained.
“On July 15, President Biden appointed the three-member Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to develop a set of non-binding recommendations by Aug. 16 for the two parties to consider. After the recommendations were released, the two parties have 30 days — concluding on Sept. 16 — to accept the recommendations, arrive at a different agreement, or temporarily extend the current contract.
“Prior to Sept. 16, any strike or lockout is prohibited by law. However, if an agreement is not achieved, a strike or lockout starting on Sept. 16 is possible.
“The PEB recommended a 24% wage increase for railroad workers over five years. This compares with the railroads’ proposed 17% wage increase over five years and the unions’ proposed 31.3% increase over five years. The PEB recommends “service recognition bonuses” of $1,000 per year for 2020 thru 2024.
“Over the weekend, three additional railroad unions tentatively agreed to the terms of the PEB recommendations. Therefore, eight of the 12 unions have arrived at a tentative agreement with the railroads. However, a number of the more sizable and influential unions have still not arrived at an agreement and remain strongly opposed to the PEB recommendations — particularly those related to scheduling, attendance, paid time off, sick days, etc.
“We are pleased that a growing number of railroad unions are tentatively agreeing to the terms of the proposed contract, but we remain very concerned that we are days away from a potential strike or lockdown. Any slowdown or stoppage of rail service — especially on the eve of harvest — would significantly impact farmers’ ability to meet customer demand — both domestically and internationally,” Steenhoeck said.
The National Grain and Feed Association urged leaders of railroads and rail labor unions to remain at the negotiating table and commit to reaching an agreement by Sept.16 to avoid a nationwide rail shutdown.
“A rail stoppage on Sept. 16 would hit right as the fall harvest accelerates in many parts of the United States,” said NGFA President and CEO Mike Seyfert in a letter to the rail and union leaders.
“The economic damages across the food and agricultural supply chain would be swift and severe.”
Last week members of the Agricultural Transportation Coalition urged Congress to intervene if agreement is not reached by Sept. 16.
The possibility of a rail strike is the latest grain supply chain issue, AgriCensus, a London-based price reporting agency, said Monday.
Railroads began halting the shipment of potentially hazardous materials including fertilizer, leading unions to call the move “scare tactics,” the Associated Press reported.
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