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Looming labor strike could shutdown MARC trains, create cargo disruptions at Port of Baltimore

Looming labor strike could shutdown MARC trains, create cargo disruptions at Port of Baltimore
Looming labor strike could shutdown MARC trains, create cargo disruptions at Port of Baltimore 03:18

BALTIMORE -- In less than 48 hours, a significant percentage of freight train service across the United States may be out of service if tense union negotiations fall through. Failure to come to a compromise could impact thousands of Marylanders.

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) warned commuters that they may have to find another way to and from work just in case the rail workers strike Friday.

Amtrak announced Wednesday that it had canceled all of its long routes starting Thursday because of the possible strike, but Amtrak says most travel in the northeast corridor between Boston and D.C. will not be affected.

"I'm very concerned about it," a commuter named Jasmine told WJZ at the Camden Station in Baltimore.

Railroad companies and labor unions have been negotiating for weeks about sick time and the consequences workers could face when they use what's perceived to be too much of that time.

In a statement on its website, CSX said in part that it "is taking steps to ensure the safety of high hazardous, toxic by inhalation and poisonous by inhalation (TIH/PIH), materials in the event of a potential rail labor strike."

CSX said it remains hopeful that agreements will be reached. 

"In addition, we are advising all customers that delays and service suspensions are possible if the impasse in labor negotiations continues," CSX said in the statement.

If workers strike on Friday, 40% of freight shipments in the United States could abruptly stop. That would cut off vital transport for everything from chlorine that's used to purify water to the food on your dinner table.

If there's no deal, then experts say the economy could lose $2 billion a day as the country tries to overcome existing supply chain problems.

"There's just no question that it would be extremely devastating," Economist Diane Swonk said. "This is sort of one of those things that is a main artery for the entire U.S. economy. And if you cut off that artery, you get a stroke and you can't afford that." 

Representatives for the railroads and the unions hustled into negotiation meetings Wednesday morning with the labor secretary in Washington D.C.

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law professor Michael Greenberger, who has worked on similar cases in the past, said all sides could be feeling the pressure.

"So much money is at stake here for everybody that it will surprise me that people don't come to their senses before the strike would start on Friday," Greenberger said.

Port of Baltimore officials say they are closely monitoring the circumstances.

"In the event collective bargaining negotiations between freight rail companies known as the National Carriers' Conference Committee and the coalitions of rail labor unions do not reach an agreement this week, there could be disruptions to some of the rail cargo in and out of the Port of Baltimore," a statement attributed to Executive Director William P. Doyle said. "The expiration date for the extended collective bargaining agreement is 12:01 a.m. this Friday, September 16, 2022. We are monitoring the negotiations closely and we will provide updates as they become available."

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