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Businesses, White House plan Friday's possible rail strike

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OMAHA, Nebraska — Business and government officials are bracing for a possible nationwide rail strike this weekend as talks continue between the nation’s largest freight railroad and its union.

The railroad has already started cutting shipments of hazardous materials and has announced plans to stop carrying refrigerated products before the strike deadline on Friday. Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, and other companies that currently rely on railroads to deliver raw materials and finished goods are preparing for the worst.

Meanwhile, officials in the Biden administration are scrambling to develop plans to use trucks, ships and planes to keep the most vital chemicals and other commodities moving should railroads stop. House continues to pressure both sides to settle their differences, and more and more business groups are poised to lobby Congress and intervene to prevent a strike if no agreement can be reached.

White House Press Secretary Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday, “We have made clear to our stakeholders the harm that will be done to American families, businesses, farmers and communities if no resolution is reached.” He said the closure was “unacceptable.”

In addition to all businesses that rely on rail for the delivery of goods, passenger rail is also affected. Because many of the passenger railroads operate on tracks owned by he one of the freight railroads. Amtrak has already canceled some long-distance trains because they don’t have enough time to reach their destinations before the strike or lockout begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Amtrak has already suspended its California Zephyr and Empire Builder lines from Chicago to the West Coast, and starting Wednesday it will suspend service on its New Orleans City, Starlight and Texas Eagle lines.

Commuter rail is also affected. In Chicago, Metra warned passengers that most trains would be out of service in the event of a strike.

The railroad company dates back to 2020 when it reached tentative agreements with most of the unions, including a ninth deal announced Tuesday. The contract also includes one additional paid vacation per year and a higher health insurance premium.

However, all 12 railroad unions must agree to stop the strike. The Locomotive Engineers Brotherhood, which represents engineers, and the transport sector of the International Federation of Sheet Metal, Aviation, Railway and Transport Workers, which represents conductors, have told railway companies of their concerns about unpredictable work schedules and strict attendance. Hope to address some. Rules, in addition to agreeing to recommended pay raises.

Ron Kaminkow, general secretary of the Railroad Union Workers Confederation, which includes workers from various railroad unions, said he didn’t think the unions were asking for much at this point. to rest with impunity.

“Our attendance policies are becoming more and more stringent. This leaves little room for workers who need to take time off for doctor visits or family time,” said Kaminkow. .

Starting Monday, all major rail companies have suspended shipments of hazardous materials to prevent dangerous chemicals from getting stuck along tracks in the event of a strike. Norfolk Southern told customers it will stop accepting shipments of intermodal containers full of goods starting Wednesday night as it prepares for a “controlled shutdown of its network.”

Some businesses may be affected more by rail closures than others. For example, nearly all ethanol and coal, and most grains move by rail.