Retail Federation Worried about Rail Strike

The National Retail Federation released a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to be prepared to step in if railroad unions go on strike during the retail industry’s most important shopping season of the year.

“For retailers, a strike during the busy holiday shopping season could be devastating,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay told members of the House and Senate. “It is imperative that Congress recognize the severe economic harm threatened by the failure to reach agreement with the remaining rail unions and move quickly to prevent a rail strike that would prove devastating to both businesses and consumers.”

The nation’s major freight railroads have reached contract agreements with 10 of their 13 unions and an 11th union representing maintenance workers has said it will continue talks at least until February. But there has been no agreement with unions representing dispatchers and locomotive engineers, and those two groups could go on strike when a 30-day cooling-off period ends at 12:01 a.m. on December 6.

If the railroads and unions do not agree to the non-binding recommendations made by a Presidential Emergency Board by next week’s deadline, President Obama could send a bill to Congress imposing the settlement on both sides. Congress could also move such legislation on its own.

Shay said in the letter that retailers rely heavily on freight rail to move merchandise across the country, especially during the holiday season, and that even a one-day strike at such a crucial time would create a sustained backlog that could clog the transportation system for weeks. Other modes of transportation would be unable to take over the extra volume, and the effects could potentially linger into the spring selling season, he said.

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