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AAFA Joins Chorus Seeking Presidential Intervention in Rail Labor Talks

The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) is the latest industry trade group to push for the White House to intervene in ongoing rail-labor contract negotiations.

The organization on Tuesday wrote to the Commander in Chief urging him to appoint a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) made up of impartial, accredited arbitrators experienced in rail-labor mediation, echoing calls from the National Retail Federation (NRF) last week.

AAFA President and CEO Steve Lamar noted that transporting goods by intermodal rail is of the utmost importance to the fashion and travel goods sector. With 98 percent of such products imported from overseas, these items make their way to shoppers across the country from gateways on the East and West coasts. Continued supply chain issues could impact critical sales seasons like back-to-school and the holidays, which are “fast approaching.”

“The supply chain crisis of the last two years has been particularly challenging for our industry, leading to severe delays, empty store shelves, and rising prices at the cash register,” Lamar said. Basic necessities like clothes and shoes have become more costly for brands and retailers to produce and ship, and in turn, price increases have been passed along to the end consumer, “contributing to the growing inflation that has permeated the entire U.S. economy.”

“That is why we are watching the ongoing rail-labor contract negotiations so closely,” he added. After more than two years of discussions that have seen federal mediation break down, Lamar believes the issue has reached a “critical stage.”

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The appointment of a PEB would help move the negotiation process along swiftly, he added, as the group would be tasked with delivering a “reasonable, impartial, and credible resolution” within 30 days. “Because of this, past PEB recommendations have been overwhelmingly accepted by both sides, bringing labor contract negotiations to a successful resolution.”

NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay’s letter to President Biden last week suggested a lengthening of the cooling-off period between carriers and unions, which is slated to expire July 18. Following mediation facilitated by the National Mediation Board that ended without a deal, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) and the dozen labor unions involved in the negotiations entered a 30-day cooling off period on June 18. In the absence of an extension, or a PEB to establish a productive pathway forward, workers will have the right to strike and carriers will have the right to use replacements when it expires next week.

Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) CEO and president Matt Priest expressed confidence that a resolution could be reached before that point. “Every company and consumer knows how serious any issue with the supply chain is right now,” he said. “The administration is already dealing with the political baggage of inflation and they are not likely to let this slip into crisis.”

“We trust all parties will figure this out in good faith because of the massive consequences to every family if they do not.”