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Biden names board to help end freight railroad and union contract disputes

By David Shepardson

July 17 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday named the members of an emergency board tasked with helping resolve disputes between freight rail carriers and their unions, the White House said.

Biden signed an order on Friday ahead of a deadline to intervene in nationwide U.S. railroad labor talks covering 115,000 workers or open the door to a potential strike or lockout that could threaten an already fragile economy and choke supplies of food and fuel.

Biden named Ira F. Jaffe to chair the presidential emergency board. Jaffe, who has been involved in labor and employment arbitration cases for more than four decades and chaired or served on five other emergency boards, is a U.S. panelist on the Rapid Response Labor Panel under the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

He also named Boston College Professor David Twomey, who has served on prior boards that helped resolve major rail and airline disputes, and Barbara C. Deinhardt, an independent arbitrator who has served as chair of the New York State Employment Relations Board and New York State Workers' Compensation Board.

If Biden had not created the board by Monday, railroads and unions could have opted for operational shutdowns or strikes, respectively.

The board "will provide a structure for workers and management to resolve their disagreements. The Board will investigate the dispute and, within 30 days of its establishment, deliver a report recommending how the dispute should be resolved," the White House said.

Talks between major freight railroads, including Union Pacific (UNP) and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/A)-owned BNSF, and unions representing their workers have dragged on for more than two years.

The order triggers a "cooling-off" period to help the sides reach a settlement.

U.S. business groups representing retailers as well as food and fuel producers warned that failing to appoint a board would be "disastrous" for the softening economy.

Railroads move everything from Inc. packages to fuel oil and soybeans, and a shutdown of any kind could send prices for necessities higher and upend battered supply chains. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Porter)

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