Republican leaders in the House are prepared to intervene to stop a strike by freight rail employees in the middle of the holiday shopping season.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-V.a) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) issued a statement Tuesday that said if a group of unions representing parts of the freight rail industry do not reach a labor agreement before the Tuesday deadline, they would ask for a vote on legislation to prevent the unions from going on strike, The Hill reported in its Transportation blog.
The National Retail Federation earlier urged Congress to act, if necessary, to prevent transportation disruption in the most lucrative shopping season of the year.
"We are following with concern the situation involving our nation's railways, and we are troubled by the possibility of a national railway strike that would jeopardize American jobs and cost our nation's economy an estimated $2 billion per day," the group of GOP leaders said in a statement. They expected the Senate and President Obama to support their effort, the statement said.
The last time rail workers walked out, in 1991, Congress passed legislation for a new contract within a day.
"While our hope is that the parties involved will find common ground and resolve the situation without congressional involvement, the House is prepared to take legislative action in the days ahead to avert a job-destroying shutdown of our nation's railroads, in the event such legislation proves necessary," they said.
The National Railway Labor Conference said earlier this month that 10 of 13 unions representing freight rails had come to agreements, but the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the American Train Dispatchers Association and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen remained outstanding.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees agreed to extend the "cooling off period" for negotiations until at least February, but the other two unions have not followed suit.
The railroads said the proposed extension was contingent on acceptance by all three unions. Without an extension or tentative settlement agreements, those unions and the railroads will be free under the Railway Labor Act to to strike or lock out the employees Tuesday.
"The railroads have made and will continue to make every effort to reach agreements with the remaining three unions," said A. Kenneth Gradia, chairman of the National Carriers' Conference Committee, the railroads' bargaining representative, in a news release Tuesday night. "During the busiest shipping and travel period of the year, a nationwide disruption of rail service would deal a crushing blow to our nation's economy, potentially costing our country $2 billion a day."
A Presidential Emergency Board appointed by President Barack Obama imposed the 60-day cooling off period and made recommendations for resolution of the national contract impasse.
"We urge the remaining unions to reach agreements with the railroads before Dec. 6," Gradia said.
The engineers acknowledged they had not reached agreement, but said they continue to negotiate to come to a contract settlement before Tuesday.
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said in a press release: "At this point, an extension would not serve either BLET members or the bargaining process in which we are engaged. If an agreement is to be reached, it is now, not some time down the road. Bargaining is at a point where an extension simply will not affect the outcome for BLET members."
The NCCC represents more than 30 railroads, including BNSF Railway and Union Pacific, in national bargaining with the 13 major rail unions.