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Concerns grow over possible national railroad strike

December 1, 2011 |  2:35 pm

Concerns about the possibility of a national railroad strike that may be called as early as Dec. 6 are growing all along the goods movement supply chain.

On Thursday, organizations representing American seaports and retail executives sent letters to the Obama administration and to Congress imploring them to take action to avert a railroad strike that could cost the U.S. economy as much as $2 billion a day.

A strike in the coming days would come at the worst possible time, said Sandra L. Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Assn., in a letter to President Obama.

A work stoppage "would disrupt the flow of goods during this critical time, resulting in lost sales, outraged customers," Kennedy said, later adding that it would undermine "what appears to be the strongest holiday shopping season since the recession began."

American Assn. of Port Authorities President and Chief Executive Kurt J. Nagel wrote to congressional leaders, saying, "The National Carriers' Conference Committee estimates that a disruption of rail service could potentially cost our country $2 billion a day. Given the fragility of our current economy and job recovery, this simply cannot be allowed to occur."

The AAPA represents 160 seaports in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. The retail leaders group represents more than 200 retailers, manufacturers and service suppliers.

They were expressing concern over the 22-month-long contract negotiations between 30 of the nation's railroads and a total of about 132,000 union workers.

A bargaining committee representing the railroads, including the two that serve Southern California, have reached tentative contract agreements with 10 unions that represent about 60% of the workers.

But a strike remains a possibility with ongoing talks stalled with three remaining unions: the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the American Train Dispatchers Assn. and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees.

The railroads involved in the talks include the western lines BNSF Railway and Union Pacific. On Tuesday, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the railroads, failed to reach an agreement with the three remaining unions that would have extended the current cooling-off period that is set to expire Dec. 6.

No strike can be called during the cooling-off period.


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-- Ronald D. White

Photo:  A BNSF Railway train hauls cargo from the Port of Long Beach on the first leg of a trip that will eventually take it to the American Midwest. A strike that would halt rail goods movement could cost the U.S. economy as much as $2 billion a day. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times