By Matt Egan
More than 400 business groups are calling on Congressional leaders to be prepared to prevent a freight rail strike that could start causing chaos in the economy as early as next week.
“No one wins when the railroads stop running,” the business groups led by the Chamber of Commerce wrote in a Monday letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Congress can impose a contract on both parties or extend a negotiation “cooling-off period” to keep the railroads running and avert disruptions to interstate commerce under the Railway Labor Act of 1926. The main crux of the dispute between the railroads and their workers revolves around time off rules.
The 449 business groups — which range from the Aluminum Association and the Beer Institute to the US Apple Association and the Window & Door Manufacturers Association — said this is a matter of “grave urgency” as even a short-term work stoppage would cause large problems. They said the best outcome would be a voluntary agreement between the unions and the freight railroads but stressed Congress needs to prepare for the worst.
“Absent a voluntary agreement, we call on you to take immediate steps to prevent a national rail strike and the certain economic destruction that would follow,” the groups wrote, noting that Congress has intervened 18 times since 1926 in labor negotiations when interstate commerce was threatened.
A rail strike could become a reality as early as December 9, causing shortages, spiking prices and halting factory production. It could also disrupt commuter rail services for up to seven million travelers a day and the transportation of 6,300 carloads of food and farm products a day, among other items, according to the business groups.
But the trade groups warn in the letter that many businesses will feel the impact of a national well strike as early as December 5 in the form of service disruptions and other impacts. They noted that the potential rail strike earlier this year caused “significant disruptions” for critical goods and products, including fertilizer, chlorine and other items, before the strike was averted with an 11th-hour tentative deal.
“Congress must be prepared to intervene before the end of the current ‘status quo’ period on December 9 to ensure continued rail service” should a deal fail to be reached,” the letter said. “The uncertainty of rail service during this year’s protracted contract negotiation has created enormous anxiety.”
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