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What’s Up With the Rail Negotiations?

With the possibility of a national rail strike looming in the near future, the NAM is working with association members, congressional leadership and the White House to urge all parties toward a final resolution. On Monday, the NAM held a members-only briefing with remarks from senior leadership of the Association of American Railroads and personnel involved in the ongoing collective bargaining process.

  • NAM members in attendance had the opportunity to hear about the state of play directly from representatives of the rail industry, and the message was consistent with the NAM’s own: that the situation is critical, and that a lack of an agreement would be devastating for railroads, for manufacturers and for the wider U.S. economy.

The background: For nearly three years, railroads and their unions have been discussing the outlines of a new long-term contract.

  • Two months ago, U.S. Class I railroads and the various labor unions composing the rail workforce agreed to a deal brokered in part through efforts led by the Biden administration that temporarily averted a strike, pending ratification votes by each union’s rank-and-file membership.
  • Although more than half of the unions involved have now ratified the agreement, at least two unions have voted to reject it—raising the likelihood of a strike.

The situation: Seven unions have ratified the proposed agreement, two have rejected the deal, and three have yet to vote. As it stands now, the hard deadline for unanimous agreement by all unions is 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at which point a strike could be called. 

The outlook: During the NAM’s event, the speakers acknowledged that Class I freight rail companies will have to begin making decisions about possible disruptions and metering rail service as soon as this weekend.

  • Leading up to the Nov. 19 deadline, manufacturers may receive notifications that some products cannot be moved on certain rail lines.

Next steps: It will be critical for stakeholders to press Congress and the administration either to work with unions to extend the Nov. 19 deadline, or to intervene with legislation that puts in place an agreement like the one recommended in September by the Presidential Emergency Board.

What we’re saying: “Manufacturers are urging congressional leaders to be prepared to bring stability and predictability to the economy if a rail strike and shutdown occurs,” NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said today.

  • “We already face economic turmoil with rising costs, product shortages and high inflation. Any nationwide rail strike or shutdown will cause even more economic pain. Manufacturers urge all parties to work rapidly—for the good of the country—to conclude this collective bargaining process.”
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