A U.S. railroad strike averted — but the crisis is far from over

In the early years The morning hours of Thursday, the major US freight rail companies reached a tentative agreement with the unions, averting a nationwide rail shutdown less than 24 hours ahead of schedule. strike. A decommissioned job will have a pile devastating consequences for the nation’s economy and supply chains, nearly 30% of which depend on railways. Even a close slip has some impact. Amtrak’s long-distance passenger services, using freight rails and shipments of hazardous materials are now being restored after the railways suspended them to prevent people or goods from being stranded due to the suspension. labour.

The tentative deal, voted on by union members, was passed through negotiations brokered by the Biden administration. This week, the company tried to avoid closures that could cause major disruptions and exacerbate inflation by limiting supplies of critical goods and increasing shipping costs. Rail unions and rail industry associations issued a statement on Thursday welcoming the agreement. But the freight rail service is unreliable since long before this weekand trade groups representing rail customers say there is still work to be done to restore it to acceptable levels.

Only two thirds trains will arrive within 24 hours of their scheduled time this spring, down from 85% before the pandemic, forcing rail customers to either suspend business or — grimly —consider eating meat their starving chickens. Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemical Society, whose members depend on railroads to transport chemicals, called the latest shutdown threat “another ugly chapter in the long story of the freight rail problems”.

Although Thursday’s deal was lauded by companies that depend on rail transport, the ACC, the National Grain and Feed Association and other trade groups also say further reform of the industry is needed. rail. Competition has dwindled as service concentrates on a handful of major rail lines, which have cut their combined workforce by 29% over the past six years. Railway customers asked legislators and railroad regulators to intervene. The proposals include minimum federal service standards, including penalties for leaving loaded cars in railroad yards for extended periods of time, and a rule that would allow customers to ship goods. goods to other service providers at certain intersections, to address the fact that many customers are captured by a single carrier.

Major U.S. freight rail companies have made deep staff cuts in recent years as part of an effort to implement a leaner, more profitable operating model known as the Railroad on exact schedule. Profits have indeed skyrocketed — two of the biggest freight carriers, Union Pacific and BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett, broke records last year. But after many workers decided not to return to the rail industry in the wake of the pandemic, staffing shortages sent the network into crisis. At federal hearings this spring, rail customers complained they suffered the worst level of service ever from a network that has been stripped of its resilience.

Many freight rail jobs have erratic schedules and long hours away from home, but workers complain that simpler operations lead to longer hours and high injury rates. and less predictable schedules. Many workers do not receive sick leave and are penalized for leave outside of vacation time, an average of three weeks a year, or vacation and personal time, up to 14 days a year for the most senior employees.

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