Rail worker negotiations continue late into Wednesday


WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — President Joe Biden’s administration was in constant meetings Wednesday with rail companies and unions at the U.S. Department of Labor, urging all sides to stay at the table and make a deal before Friday’s deadline to avoid a strike.

There’s already been some impact on the president’s go-to mode of transportation, Amtrak, and now Biden says he’s working to avert the crisis before things get worse. 

If a deal is not reached, it would be the industry’s first work stoppage in 30 years.

Railroads including Union Pacific, Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF and Norfolk Southern have until a minute after midnight Friday to reach deals with three holdout unions representing about 60,000 workers before a work stoppage affecting freight and Amtrak could begin, according to Reuters.

Talks between labor unions and railroads, which started at 9 a.m., were still underway more than 12 hours later after 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday at the U.S. Labor Department’s headquarters in Washington.

A nationwide shutdown of the rail industry would affect everything from supply shipments, and of course, commutes across the country.

Amtrak released a statement Wednesday night saying it was “closely monitoring the unfolding negotiations.

“While we are hopeful that parties will reach a resolution, Amtrak has now begun phased adjustments to our service in preparation for a possible freight rail service interruption later this week,” the rail service’s statement said. “Such an interruption could significantly impact intercity passenger rail service, as Amtrak operates almost all of our 21,000 route miles outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC) on track owned, maintained, and dispatched by freight railroads.”

A worker rides a rail car at a BNSF rail crossing in Saginaw, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. Business and government officials are preparing for a potential nationwide rail strike at the end of this week while talks carry on between the largest U.S. freight railroads and their unions. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Amtrak announced the following line closures for Thursday, Sept. 15:

Capitol Corridor, Amtrak CascadesHeartland Flyer, Illinois Service, Michigan Service, Pacific Surfliner (partial), Piedmont, San Joaquins, Springfield Service (north of Springfield), and Virginia Service.

The White House says negotiations have been ongoing for months. In those talks, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have reportedly urged all involved to stay at the table.

The Biden administration, however, is working on a backup plan should the talks stall.

“We are working with other modes of transportation, including the shippers and truckers, air freight, air freight, to see how they can step in and keep goods moving in case of this rail shutdown,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

But that may not be a load the trucking industry can take on. Truckers are facing their own challenges and driver shortages, and it’s estimated it would take roughly 467,000 long-haul trucks to pick up that slack.

“There can be some help but there is no way there is to completely replace to take care of that tonnage that goes on rail,” said Susan Kirkpatrick of Buddy Moore Trucking. “The reason you see so many trains is because it takes trains to get product from point A to point B.”

If an agreement is not reached, Congress and Biden could step in and force workers back on the job while extending talks.

FILE – A BNSF railroad train hauling carloads of coal from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming is seen east of Hardin, Mont., on July 15, 2020. Business and top officials are bracing for the possibility of a nationwide rail strike on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, while talks continue between the nation’s largest freight railroads and their unions. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

A shutdown of the rail industry would have wide reach impacts on the energy sector, retail shopping, agriculture and the auto industry.

Nearly all new vehicles that travel more than a couple hundred miles from the factory to their destination are shipped by rail because it’s more efficient, said Michael Robinet, an executive director for S&P Global Mobility in an interview with The Associated Press. So it’s almost a certainty that new vehicles coming to the U.S. from Mexico or other countries will be delayed, he said.

“It’s not like there’s extra truck capacity to take all the vehicles that the railroads can’t carry,” Robinet said.

Gas prices could rise too if there is a rail strike, as nearly 300,000 barrels of crude oil travel by rail everyday. Likewise, 5 million barrels of propane, a third of U.S. consumption, travels by rail every month.

Nearly 75% of coal and 70% of ethanol travel by rail in the U.S.

Meat and poultry farmers could be severely impacted by the stoppage as well, as most of the feed for their animals travels by rail.

Every week, the nation’s chicken industry receives about 27 million bushels of corn and 11 million bushels of soybean meal to feed chickens, said Tom Super, senior vice president of the National Chicken Council in an interview with The Associated Press.

Just in time for the busy holiday shopping season, the rail strike also threatens to drastically hamper retail stores ability to stock their shelves.

“As we have seen in the past two and half years, if there is a breakdown anywhere along the supply chain, one link falters, you see that ripple effect pretty quickly and those effects just spread from there,” said Jesse Dankert, vice president of supply chain at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a retail trade group that counts more than 200 retailers like Best Buy as its members.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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