September 23, 2022

Georgia’s economy and workers entangled in threatened railroad strike

For workers, the issues are conditions they say are harsh and unfair, including extended shifts with no day off. For the economy, the stakes are about 2 billion dollars a day, according to an industry estimate.

And with economic concerns being a powerful political factor, the negotiations drew White House officials and Labor Secretary Martin Walsh, himself a former labor leader.

A dozen unions currently represent railway workers. Two of the biggest have not reached an agreement with the companies.

Recommendations for a deal have been offered by the Emergency Presidential Council, appointed this summer, but a deal has been elusive. In the event of a strike, Congress could intervene, as it did in 1992 after the strike by the machinists’ union CSX. Congress passed a bill that forced an agreement, it was signed by President George HW Bush, and the strike ended after two days.

Norfolk Southern said in a statement that, in anticipation of a strike, it had stopped carrying certain types of shipments to ensure “dangerous and other safety-sensitive goods are properly secured (and) are not left behind”.

The company, which moved its headquarters in Atlanta last year of Virginia, has 3,556 employees in Georgia. Some of them, however, are represented by unions that have reached an agreement on a new contract, so it is unclear how many of them would quit in the event of a strike.

“We have communicated to all parties to the negotiations that we will not be locking out unionized employees,” Norfolk Southern said. “Our goal is to keep our country’s economy moving, to serve our customers and to reach agreements with the remaining unions.”

Norfolk Southern operates 1,706 miles of track in Georgia, with containers accounting for the lion’s share of its freight, according to the company.

Many of those containers come from — or go to — the Port of Savannah, which last month handled 575,513 container units in August, much of which was then transported by truck, rail or both. The Atlanta metropolitan area accounts for more than half of this traffic. In the event of a strike, the Georgia Ports Authority plans to make all cargo available for transit by truck.

This could dramatically increase the need for trucks and drivers, which are already in short supply. Around 80,000 drivers and 460,000 trucks would be needed to replace freight trains, according to a letter sent to Congress by American trucking associations.

But even if all of the cargo bound for Atlanta could be picked up, thousands more containers bound for Memphis, Nashville and Dallas would be stacked at the port waiting to be picked up when a rail strike ends, officials said. officials.

“These options give (the authority) the ability to absorb the impact of unexpected deviations in trade while maintaining the smooth movement of commodities,” the authority said in a statement.

While the Port of Savannah is one of the largest container ports in the country, to the south the Braunschweig Harbor manages the import and export of tens of thousands of vehicles, more than 20% of which are transported by rail.

Cars intended for export can be transferred to a truck. Imported vehicles can be stored at the port, officials said.

Amtrak said this week it was temporarily canceling service on some long-distance routes to avoid “passenger disruption.” Atlanta is not among the cities affected so far.

The unions threatening to strike are the Sheet metal, air, rail and transportation workerswhich is part of AFL-CIOand the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, who is part of the Teamsters.

They accuse companies of bringing on the problem with staff cuts and draconian schedules.

Whatever happens with the negotiations, they will carry a symbolic message as they come at a time of greater union activity and more aggressive organizing across the country.

Even in Georgia, a historically anti-union environment, unions have become more active, said Charles Flemming, Georgia AFL-CIO President. “There is a change in the air.”

Georgia and the threat of a railway strike

South Norfolk

Based in Atlanta since 2001

3,556 employees

1,706 miles of trail

2,464 crossings

1.5 million shipments exported and imported each year

$59 million in purchases, payments and taxes (2021)

Savanna Harbor

Handled 575,513 containers last month

55% of units go to Metro Atlanta

Rail commerce will shift to trucks for Metro Atlanta

Exchanges for other metros will be stacked until the end of the strike

Sources: Port Authority of Georgia, Norfolk Southern