Ag groups urge Congress to prevent ‘devastating’ rail strike
More than 30 leading agricultural groups on Thursday urged lawmakers to avert a rail strike that would halt the transport of food and potentially cripple the U.S. economy.
Around 115,000 rail workers could strike as soon as Sept. 16 if they cannot reach a contract agreement with railroads. Many workers are eager to walk out after their dissatisfaction with contract recommendations offered by a White House-appointed panel aimed at ending years of contentious negotiations.
In a letter to the top lawmakers on transportation committees, agricultural groups warned that farmers rely on freight rail to transport their goods and that any kind of stoppage would likely lead to the loss of food supplies, driving up prices and exacerbating the risk of famine around the globe.
“A complete stoppage of the rail system would lead to shutdowns or slowdowns of rail-dependent facilities resulting in devastating consequences to our national and global food security,” the groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Grain and Feed Association, told lawmakers.
“A freight rail stoppage would drastically make inflation worse, especially for those who can least afford it,” they added.
Congress has the power to block or delay railroad strikes. In the event of a lockout, lawmakers could vote to enact the White House-appointed panel’s recommendations, something railroads are pushing for, or appoint arbitrators to fast-track a new deal, among a range of other options.
Just five of the 13 unions representing rail workers have reached tentative agreements with railroads to implement the panel recommendations, which call for 24 percent raises but don’t address workers’ concerns about grueling hours and a lack of time off.
Some workers and union leaders see a strike as their only source of leverage, and they’ve accused railroads of banking on Congress to take it away. Democratic leaders are expected to block a strike rather than risk economic upheaval ahead of the midterm elections.
“After the pandemic and supply chain disruptions of the past two years, now is not the time for more uncertainty and disruption,” a White House official told The Hill this week. “Now is the time for the parties to resolve their differences, before the nation’s economy begins responding to even the prospect of a nationwide rail stoppage.”
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