Once again, the country is closer to a rail strike that could paralyze the economy, including agriculture, ahead of the holidays. One of the largest of a dozen railroad unions voted ‘no’ on a White House-brokered contract, as first reported by the Washington Post.
A threatened December 9 strike over attendance and sick leave pay would shut down the nation’s major freight and passenger rail service, crippling the economy right before the holidays. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley argued recently for President Biden to step in; “He’d be forced to have either he take action or Congress take action because it would shut down the whole economy.”
That includes ag shipments of grain, produce, meat, and biofuels. Barring intervention under the 1926 Railway Labor Act or unanimous approval of a deal by the unions, an industry-wide walkout is likely. Grassley says that can’t be allowed to happen.
Grassley; “Congress has the power to impose the deal that was previously negotiated. I’m a cosponsor of the bill. There is much at stake, so hopefully, Congress doesn’t have to act, but I’m going to be an advocate for acting if we have to.”
The railroad industry says a rail workers’ strike would cost the U.S. economy some 2 billion dollars a day.
NPR says the total number of unions rejecting the agreement is four with a combined membership of close to 60,000 workers. Eight other unions ratified the deal but could get pulled back into the dispute. NPR says that’s because if one union decides to strike, all of the unions will honor the picket lines.
The National Grain and Feed Association, the Soy Transportation Coalition, the National Milk Producers Federation, and many other agricultural groups are asking Congress to step in and prevent a shutdown, which would be catastrophic for the U.S. economy.
The USDA says railroads carry 29 percent of the nation’s soybeans, 33 percent of the corn, and 60 percent of U.S. wheat to export terminals.