Shippers are calling on Congress to intervene if railroads cannot reach an agreement with two of the largest unions by the end of the week.
The four largest U.S. railroads began limiting service Monday in preparation for a potential strike that stands to bring freight rail movement across the country to a halt.
Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF and CSX all announced they will issue embargoes on certain shipments beginning early this week. Railroads have until Friday to reach an agreement with its two of the largest rail unions, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
Norfolk Southern will close all gates to intermodal traffic on Tuesday starting at 12 p.m, according to a contingency plan released Friday. The railroad also said in a separate service update it would embargo all automotive traffic beginning Wednesday.
CSX, BNSF and Union Pacific all halted traffic of hazardous materials on Monday due to the threat of “spontaneous labor action,” according to the Association of American Railroad’s list of active embargoes.
Norfolk Southern and CSX said the embargoes were necessary to ensure that critical or even toxic freight is not left abandoned.
“We must ensure that hazardous and other security-sensitive freight is properly secured so it is not left stranded in the event of a sudden strike,” Norfolk Southern said in a service update. The railroad noted it would resume full operations if a labor agreement is reached.
SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce said in a joint statement that railroads’ embargoes constitute an “unnecessary attack on rail shippers.”
“The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our Unions to cave into their contract demands knowing that our members would never accept them,” they said.
Rail carriers have struck agreements with 10 of 12 unions, announcing new contracts on Sunday with groups representing boilermakers and maintenance employees.
SMART-TD and BLET continue to negotiate with rail carriers, which are represented by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee. An emergency labor dispute board appointed by President Joe Biden issued baseline recommendations last month to facilitate an agreement, and a federally mandated cooling off period is set to expire after midnight on Friday.