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Railroad labor unions plan to strike creating worry for the already strapped supply chain

Union representatives for railroad workers say they will not cave into what can only be described as corporate terrorism. They see striking as their only option.

TEMPLE, Texas — Potential bad news for the nations ongoing supply chain issues -- railroad workers could go on strike Friday if rail carriers don't address their contract concerns.

A contract battle between rail labor unions and their employers has been going on for more than two years and it could come to a head this week. Regardless of how it plays out, union representatives have said they will not cave into what they call corporate terrorism.

A locomotive engineer, who chose to remain anonymous, tells 6 News the unfair labor treatment has gone on for too long and it must come to an end. He said striking is the only option at this point.

"If it doesn't end favorably or something that we don't find common ground and I hope that they understand that we're not trying to hurt anybody," he said. "We're not trying to be mean. We're not trying to interrupt your day-to-day lives. We're just trying to be treated fairly which I feel is a right for every American."

Those who plan to go on strike said it's not about the money. It is about the quality of life. They're battling contract offers that union representatives said don't address their quality of life concerns--with a specific focus on safety and attendance policies.

RELATED: 'Scare tactics': Unions blast rail move to delay shipments before deadline

Under current conditions some employees said they have been penalized for taking days off.

"I've risked my life. I miss things with my family and I just want to be fairly compensated for my time, my effort and to be treated like I am part of your solution, not part of your problem," the locomotive engineer said.

Five of the 12 railroad unions, that together represent 115,000 workers, had already reached tentative agreements based on the Presidential Emergency Board's recommendations that will deliver 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses over a five-year contract that's retroactive to 2020. 

The coalition negotiating on behalf of the railroads announced three more tentative agreements Sunday, so deals covering roughly 45,000 workers have now been announced. Members of the unions with tentative deals still have to vote on them. 

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the SMART Transportation Division represent half of railroad union workers. They are two unions that have not made an agreement and are planning to strike Friday.

Unfair labor is just one part of the problem. The other is what a strike could do to the supply chain. An issue Margaret Kidd, University of Houston's Program Director of Supply Chain and Logistics, said is already off the rails.

"You're going to cause huge, huge problems at the ports, at the manufacturing plants," Kidd said. "There's going to be a shortage of raw materials that typically flow on these trains. It's going to be chaos."

Kidd said 30 to 40 percent of long haul freight is hauled by rail and a strike could leave 7,000 trains idle.

"My concern is we are in a fragile situation here with the supply chain," Kidd added. "It's estimated that they'll be roughly a $2 billion a day impact if there is a strike and it will have an impact throughout the U.S."

She explained to 6 News the impact the strike could have on the supply chain could also worsen ongoing inflation.

"I think the other situation that's really unique right now is we're under enormous inflationary pressure with inflation running almost as high as it's been in 40 years, Kidd explained. "When you consider the grains and fertilizers and energy products are carried by the rails, that ultimately impacts the cost of those goods."

Railroad companies, like Union Pacific and BNSF have already stopped some shipments of hazardous materials due to labor uncertainty.

Unions say it's just a scare tactic and those planning to strike will continue to work to get fairly compensated.

“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," said Jeremy Fergunson with SMART-TD. 

“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. Our unions will not cave into these scare tactics, and Congress must not cave into what can only be described as corporate terrorism,” said Jeremy Fergunson with SMART-TD and Dennis Pierce with the BLET union.

Congress can force the contract through which would require employees to return to work if a strike does happen on Friday. The last time that happened was 1992.

The anonymous locomotive engineer asks that people email elected officials to tell them to not get involved.

"Ask them to please stay out of it -- to let us settle this on our own terms because if Congress stays out of it, [the companies] will have to settle," he said.

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