Nationwide railway strike threatens economy, local commuting as soon as Friday

Sep 14, 2022, 3:27 PM

railway strike...

Passenger trains in Washington are already getting canceled due to a nationwide freight railroad strike that could happen as soon as Friday.

Although Amtrak and Sound Transit are not involved in union contract negotiations, their trains run on the same freight tracks owned by Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway.

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) told KIRO Newsradio that dispatchers won’t be on duty if a strike happens, which means those rails will be entirely out of service.

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“The negotiations do not involve Amtrak or the Amtrak workforce but still do affect train travel,” Janet Matkin, communications manager for WSDOT said in a blog post. “While we are hopeful that parties will reach a resolution, Amtrak has now begun phased adjustments to its service in preparation for a possible freight rail service interruption later this week.

“Unfortunately, you know we do not like to do this to our passengers, but it’s out of our control at this point,” Matkin continued. The Biden administration has been negotiating with both sides to avoid the possible railroad work stoppage.

Ticketed customers are being notified of the situation, and Amtrak is offering to change their reservation date and waive the difference in fare through Oct. 31, or provide a full refund.

If this strike happens, economists are saying it could cost the economy at least $2 billion per day with fears this could cause another supply chain crisis.

Washington state, one of the most trade-dependent states in the country, exports an average of $5.1 billion a month, according to the State Office of Financial Management. That’s roughly $170 million a day.

That figure doesn’t even include all of the freight that travels through Washington to other parts of the country.

Washington imports an average of $6 billion per month.

The holdout stems from a new points-based attendance policy railroads have implemented. Railroads believe workers are missing too much time over nonessential events, while workers claim the policy is being used to discipline and terminate employees.

Last month, the Presidential Emergency Board, acting through the Railway Labor Act, recommended union employees should receive a 24% aggregate pay increase while rejecting the unions’ arguments over the attendance policies.

While most unions representing major national railroad workers have settled with the railroads over this arrangement, SMART and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) stand as the lone holdouts.

The last time a railway strike occurred was in 1986, when a Federal district judge ended a six-day strike against the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway by issuing a restraining order barring the railroad from operating trains without union employees.

Approximately 20,000 workers under the United Transportation Union and BLET striked after Santa Fe Railway experimented with a special freight car, the RoadRailer, without union approval.

Amtrak is working to make sure travelers don’t get stranded by securing buses for Amtrak Cascades passengers Thursday to make sure they are not stuck mid-trip, but the service is not going to continue into the weekend for those looking for alternate transportation options.

In the event of a national rail strike, the Sounder commuter rail service between Everett and Lakewood and Seattle would also be canceled beginning Friday, Sept. 16 until workers return. The Sounder train will still operate its regular service until Thursday, Sept. 15.

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(Photo from KIRO 7)...

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Nationwide railway strike threatens economy, local commuting as soon as Friday