President Joe Biden on July 15 established a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to help settle labor disputes between freight railroads and labor unions.
Rail labor had voted to begin a strike on July 18 if President Biden did not intervene.
“I have been notified by the National Mediation Board that in its judgment these disputes threaten substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree that would deprive a section of the country of essential transportation service,” Biden wrote in an executive order establishing the PEB.
The board will include a chair and two other members appointed by the president with no ties to either rail labor or railroads.
The board has 30 days to make settlement recommendations. Lockouts/strikes are prohibited during that time and for 30 days following the release of the report, pushing the timing for a potential labor strike to peak harvest time in mid-September. If rail carriers or rail labor reject the PEB recommendations, Congress can intervene, which it did in 1992 by creating a bill forbidding a lockout/strike.
The rail industry’s 12 labor unions, which represent 125,000 employees, and most Class I railroads began the bargaining process more than two years ago to amend unionized rail worker wages, benefits and work rules.
In a July 1 letter to President Biden, NGFA and other shipper groups urged the administration to establish a PEB to “prevent catastrophic disruptions to the freight rail network.”
The rail network is experiencing significant service disruptions, the shippers noted, and an additional disruption of rail service related to a labor dispute would “push an already stressed rail network to the brink” and have immediate impacts on the nation’s supply chain.
“It is of critical importance to all sectors of the economy that these parties reach an amicable agreement and avoid any service disruption,” the letter noted. “Any rail work stoppage in the United States would exacerbate the ongoing supply chain challenges, upend the U.S. economy and hurt American consumers and jobs.”