A freight rail strike, threatened again after two unions rejected an eleventh-hour deal brokered by the White House in September, would cripple agriculture and the nation’s economy. A strike over paid sick leave would shut down freight rail for 40 percent of the nation’s long-haul goods, including food and other commodities and even holiday gifts.
USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer on a Farm Foundation forum says a rail strike would cripple not just the poultry industry that needs ‘on-time’ grain deliveries.
“If I’m an ethanol producer in the Midwest, I can get all the grain I want, but I only have a limited days’ space to move out the ethanol. So, I need the train cars in order to move the ethanol out.”
And then, there’s the meat processor. Meyer; “Or, even when it comes to a meat packing facility, I can get the animals in, I can get the carcasses out, but all the rendered product that backs up my system is only a couple of days. Or, if I’m baking bread, I’ve got to have flour. That’s only a couple of days.”
A strike could happen as soon as November 19th or as late as December 4th unless 12 rail unions approve their contracts or Congress forces a deal—something the White House opposes. And two big unions have already rejected the deal.
Compounding problems for Midwest producers, of course, are low water levels in the Mississippi, a key for farm exports and movement of fertilizer upriver.