Logistics Problems Will Worsen in September If Labor Unions Cripple U.S. Railroads

The clock is ticking toward a national railroad shutdown. For an analysis of the Railway Labor Act and how the Biden Administration will be challenged to stop a nationwide strike, see a thoughtful article written by John Brennan who has had decades of experience with railroad labor issues. He writes in a trade publication Railway Age:

“Congress in the Railway Labor Act, 45 USC §151 et seq. The RLA was first enacted in 1926 and has been amended numerous times since. But after nearly 100 years, the RLA may be facing its greatest test sometime in mid-September. On that ominous day, all of the statutory processes, remedies and procedures simply run out. Labor and management may then engage in what is euphemistically called ‘self help’—work stoppages by workers and lockouts by management.”

“In a prior era, railroad management sometimes attempted to keep trains operating at a low level using management employees and “replacement workers” (affectionately known as scabs.) However, modern regulatory requirements and liability concerns have basically eliminated this option. The rail system could grind to a complete halt in the midst of an economy already plagued by difficult supply chain issues.”

I agree with his comment that without viable options other than timely Congressional action, we ought to start stock up on things shipped by rail — and keep in mind that many truckloads of food and consumer items are shipped aboard railroad flatcars (called “intermodal” or “piggyback”).

John J. Brennan III, is the retired Chief Counsel of the Federal Transit Administration, former Senior Counsel for the Union Pacific Railroad, and earlier was Staff Director and Counsel for the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

See: “Grasping at Straws to Avoid a Shutdown.”