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Brinkmanship Over Imminent Rail Strike


The Association of American Railroads, the trade group representing five major freight train companies and Amtrak and indirectly, all commuter rail systems, responded to increasing pressure imposed by the White House and  seven of twelve unions to accept offers by operators or face Congressional involvement before the strike deadline of Friday September 16th.


Tentative agreements were reached, covering 21,000 workers but seven unions representing approximately 90,000 workers delayed accepting the recommendations made by the Presidential Emergency Board that recommended a five-year contract, incorporating a 24 percent raise and a $5,000 bonus.  Outstanding issues that were resolved included scheduling, health benatits and pay scales. Job security was a major point of contention with a proposal to reduce crews from two to one engineer to save costs. This provision advanced by operators would have contravened safety regulations to be imposed by the Federal Railroad Administration


In a projection released by the Association of American Railroads, the cost of a strike could have exceed $2 billion per day, although prevailing sentiment was that Congress would have acted expeditiously to avoid a strike, with obvious political repercussions.


The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Union urged Congress to remain neutral, obviously to provide the Union with leverage. In contrast a coalition of agricultural associations requested Congress to intervene and block a strike before the deadline.


Agreement on a  contract will have to be ratified by members of the unions involved. Resolution provided the unions and the railroad operatorswith security and the Administration will benefit from avoiding a strike shortly before the  mid-term elections. The agribusiness and livestock sectors have dodged a bullet.