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Illinois at heart of railroad labor dispute

Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Background from Politico

President Joe Biden on Monday asked Congress to intervene to prevent an economically crippling freight rail strike, even though it means delivering a defeat to his allies in the labor movement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately announced she will call a vote this week to carry out Biden’s request, which will mean that paid sick leave for the 115,000 workers involved in negotiations won’t be included in the deal.

Biden had held out for months on seeking congressional action, instead opting to give the freight rail industry and 12 of its unions more time to negotiate a contract. But as warnings mounted that a strike could begin as soon as Dec. 9, threatening to interrupt U.S. power and water supplies and devastate the broader economy, the pro-labor, pro-rail president said Monday that he saw “no path to resolve the dispute at the bargaining table.”

The development came two months after Labor Secretary Marty Walsh held an all-night bargaining session at his agency’s headquarters that produced a tentative deal, temporarily defusing the strike threat. But since then, members of three of the 12 unions voted to reject the agreement.


“Just as we’re trying to get those supply chains unsnarled, this rail strike would completely upend the supply chain to get into the country,” Mark Denzler, the president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, said. […]

Eight out of the 12 rail unions in the country ratified the agreement, but to go into effect, all of them must agree to the terms of the deal. […]

Right now, Birge said low water levels on the Mississippi River have slowed down barge traffic limiting their capacity. This leaves it up to freight trains to make up the difference.

“Without those other two major transportation systems. It all falls on trucks and it’s not capable to handle that,” Birge said. […]

If the unions and the train companies can’t make a deal, Congress can intervene and put in place contract terms that workers would have to follow.


Farmers and manufacturers rely on freight trains to move items around, but a potential rail strike could soon bring that to a crashing halt.

Freight rail unions and train companies are involved in a labor dispute. The Biden administration helped broker an agreement between the two back in September to prevent a strike, but not all of the country’s rail unions are on board with the deal.

One downstate Illinois farm bureau is raising concerns.

“We, like, rely upon rail transportation to bring us the goods that we enjoy in our homes and the food that we, that we eat,” said James Birge, manager of the Sangamon County Farm Bureau. “So, without those transportation modes available, it, food security becomes even greater issue than we’ve already learned it to be.”

* Center Square

Employer associations from Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio sent Congressional leaders a letter last week urging them to implement the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations.

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President Mark Denzler said it’s a rare ask, but the U.S. Congress should intervene. […]

He said Illinois would be heavily impacted as the only state with all seven Class 1 railroads in the heart of the country.

“Guess what, if the trains aren’t rolling, the trucks aren’t rolling, so you’re having an impact on the truck drivers that can’t move product, and so it trickles down,” Denzler said.

If an agreement isn’t reached, a strike could happen as early as the first week of December.

* More transportation news…

    * Sun-Times | More women getting behind the wheel as trucking industry seeks drivers: “Everything in this world needs transportation,” said Maggie Selagea, who got into trucking when the construction business she and her husband owned collapsed in the 2008 recession. “If this industry stops, that means that the world will stop.”

    * Bureau of Transportation Statistics | Low Water on the Mississippi Slows Critical Freight Flows: Of the 12 states, Illinois shipped the most freight to Louisiana in total (55 million tons) and by water (44 million tons) in 2020. Cereal grain accounted for 43 percent of the total tonnage between Illinois and Louisiana, and other agricultural products accounted for 26 percent. The river carried 93 percent of the cereal grain between Illinois and Louisiana, compared to 6 percent by rail, and it carried 82 percent of “other agricultural products” between those two states, compared to 15 percent by rail and 3 percent by truck.


  1. - ChrisB - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 8:54 am:

    ==He said Illinois would be heavily impacted as the only state with all seven Class 1 railroads in the heart of the country.==


  2. - Excitable Boy - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:01 am:

    - Guess what, if the trains aren’t rolling, the trucks aren’t rolling -

    Why don’t the owners go drive them, Mark? Is it because labor is what keeps the economy going?

    Pretty shameful that these companies refuse to offer paid sick leave and now Biden and Congress are going to cram it down the workers throats.

    Democrats at the national level haven’t learned a thing about why Trump won in 2016.

  3. - Captain Obvious - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:17 am:

    I wonder if uncle Joe will need Republican help in Congress to screw over his friends in labor. Another perfect example of. Democrat standing by your side until it is politically uncomfortable. I thought the Democrats were all in for supporting labor. I guess that’s only until the going gets tough.

  4. - Homebody - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:22 am:

    Enjoy the death spiral created by those workers looking for other work, leaving the remainder with even worse working conditions, causing more to look for other work, leaving the remainder with…

    This isn’t a solution. If anything it slows the bleeding for a little bit, but just causes more problems down the road.

  5. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:25 am:

    @Captain Oblivious

    And you would be griping if he didn’t intervene and a strike happened. You can’t please hyperpartisan hacks like yourself. Sometimes leadership involves tough choices. This is one of those time. Maybe go back to yelling on Facebook.

  6. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:28 am:

    - Captain Obvious -

    So you support labor here, and think the President is wrong…

    … or… you are supporting Biden here?

    Obviously you have no clue to your own thoughts as you hope not to hyperventilate saying “Democrat”.

    It’s sad.

    To the post,

    This was something that could’ve been avoided as labor here in this instance is looking for it’s best interests, which they are wholly entitled to do, (it’s what unions are suppose to do) but labor here has lost at least one ally and what makes bargaining work is when bargaining is designed where both sides see wins and realize there will be losses to get some wins and get a deal done.

  7. - Furtive Look - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:28 am:

    A friend of mine works for the railroad and we have discussed this a couple times. They are treating their employees like crap. So far it is going just the way he said it would. If they dare go on strike they’ll just be ordered back to work.

  8. - Techie - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:39 am:

    @Excitable Boy

    Well said. If Congress is going to force a deal through, why not side with the workers who are simply asking for humane treatment like paid sick leave? It’s something Democrats, and really anyone who values human life (as Republicans so often claim to do), should support. And it’s not like the railroad companies can’t afford it.

  9. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:47 am:

    = I thought the Democrats were all in for supporting labor. I guess that’s only until the going gets tough.=

    Same here when it comes to seniors and SSI/medicare. How you feeling about he gop desire to cut that?

    I am ok with the government settling a strike that is critical to commerce.

  10. - Curious citizen - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:50 am:

    Nobody got a comment from Tim Butler of the Illinois Railroad Association?

  11. - SWIL_Voter - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:55 am:

    Just spent Thanksgiving with loads of rail workers who feared this outcome. Dems stabbing labor in the back. At Christmas. Terrible look for Biden and his party. They’ve learned nothing from the last 6 years. These workers deserve to be treated like humans. Dems will once again side with the rich over the interests of working class people. Disgusting

  12. - MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 10:30 am:

    “Eight out of the 12 rail unions in the country ratified the agreement”

    This factoid is misleading in the much same way that touting the number of counties won and lost in a gubernatorial race is misleading.

    Combined, the 12 rail unions represent approximately 125,000 employees.

    The four freight rail unions that rejected the contract agreement represent nearly 60,000 workers.

    That means that the agreement was rejected by approximately 48% of the 12 unions’ combined membership.

    That seems like a fact worth noting.

    – MrJM

  13. - froganon - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 10:52 am:

    It’s time for Congress to step into the breach and order the companies to meet labor’s needs for reasonable hours and health care. The stories about employees who can’t get medical treatment due to work schedules is unacceptable. RR profit margins allow those companies to meet workers’ needs.

  14. - DuPage - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 11:09 am:

    If they are going to impose a contract, they should
    at least impose a few sick days.

  15. - Kippax Blue - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 11:56 am:

    Butler will be at the Alamo in Springfield for the World Cup match… get a comment from him here.

  16. - Just a Citizen - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 12:29 pm:

    The railroads are making great profits; give the workers some sick leave for goodness sakes. If the Democrats support labor don’t force a deal without the sick leave.

  17. - DuPage - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 3:52 pm:

    Biden inadvertently gave the railroads a big gift. All the oil that would have gone through the pipeline (that Biden cancelled) is going into tank cars. The railroads could easily afford a few sick days for their workers. If the workers are forced to take a contract without some adequate sick days, it would be an additional gift to the railroads.

  18. - Retired Lobster - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 3:53 pm:

    Rep. Butler is still a state legislator…until January 1, 2023, I believe. Why would he comment?

  19. - MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 5:40 pm:

    “All the oil that would have gone through the pipeline (that Biden cancelled) is going into tank cars.”

    Do you have any idea how long it takes to build a fuel pipeline?

    Give it a moment’s thought.

    – MrJM

  20. - Fivegreenleaves - Tuesday, Nov 29, 22 @ 9:30 pm:

    Sounds like the RRs and the country need SB 1229 and HB 580, which during the Rauner years, would’ve made the state’s “impasse” with AFSCME go to binding arbitration.

  21. - Betty Draper’s cigarette - Wednesday, Nov 30, 22 @ 3:23 am:

    “All the oil that would have gone through the pipeline (that Biden cancelled) is going into tank cars.”

    Judge Brian Morris canceled the keystone XL pipeline in 2018. The oil goes to market through the original pipeline.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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