(NewsNation) — U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday named members of an emergency board tasked with helping resolve disputes between freight rail carriers and their unions, the White House said.
Biden signed an order on Friday ahead of a deadline to intervene in nationwide U.S. railroad labor talks covering 115,000 workers. The talks could open the door to a potential strike or lockout that may threaten an already fragile economy and choke supplies of food and fuel.
Union workers have been without a contract since 2020, and they are demanding higher pay and better conditions.
While the potential rail strike is on hold for now during a 30-day cooling-off period, the threat is still looming if the two sides can’t reach a deal even with federal help. About 30% of all cargo in the U.S. is moved by rail, and a strike could bring a key piece of the supply chain to a grinding halt.
The board “will provide a structure for workers and management to resolve their disagreements. The Board will investigate the dispute and, within 30 days of its establishment, deliver a report recommending how the dispute should be resolved,” the White House stated.
Like many other industries, rail companies are impacted by severe labor shortages, resulting in ripple effects at the Port of Los Angeles and other ports around the country where containers are stacking up.
“We now have more than 29,000 rail containers on our docks,” said Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka. “That number should be in the 9000 unit range. Rail cargo is sitting an average of 7.5 days. This should be two days of dwell time.”
With the backup in Long Beach, there’s an estimated $1.5 billion of goods waiting to be moved by rail.
Supply chain shortages have already added to skyrocketing prices, and a rail strike could potentially worsen the situation.
Reuters contributed to this report.