The Looming Rail Strike Threats to Steamroll the Supply Chain & Commuters

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Photo by Avi Waxman on Unsplash

The rail worker unions are haggling with major railway companies for more pay and back-pay dating back to 2020, according to WHTR-13. Seven unions representing over 90,000 rail workers threaten to strike Friday if their demands aren’t met.

Strategists and economists speculate that further supply chain issues, empty store shelves, increased gas prices, and factory closures will result.

If a rail strike transpires, 30-40% of the country’s freight will grind to a screeching halt, and it would perpetuate an estimated $2 billion per day economic impact. Moreover, with supply chain bottlenecks easing after the worst of the pandemic has passed, a total stoppage of rail traffic would also affect inflation amid the other concerns.

The Biden Administration has inserted itself into the negotiations. Labor secretary Marty Walsh and the National Mediation Board met with rail carriers and the unions representing the rail workers, hoping to avert the predicted strike.

Bloomberg reported Saturday that U.S. freight railroads began notifying customers that reduced services would start Monday. The action attempts to avoid potentially hazardous materials getting sidelined without supervision, creating an opportunity for bad actors to wreak havoc.

The Agricultural Transportation Working Group is a coalition of 31 agricultural organizations. They reached out to Congress in a letter, requesting lawmakers to prepare to step in and prevent a strike.

The group painted a bleak picture of global food insecurity and geopolitical instability in areas susceptible to famine. They stressed that any stoppage would drastically worsen inflation and create further supply chain problems.

These aren’t the only concerns should a strike occur.

Trussville, Ala., Mayor Buddy Choat stressed that limited rail workers would increase dangerous railway delays and crossing blockages.

“This could create a big problem for us, depending on how many workers are still available.” The mayor explained that when conductors hit their time for the day, they must stop. He stressed a strike could mean the train wouldn’t move again for days.

“If they stop in Trussville and they’ve got two of my crossings blocked, it takes a while to get the other crew out there in a normal situation, but if they are shorthanded, it could be hours and days before they get out there.”

The mayor pointed out his focus is public safety. First Responders and school buses present challenging aspects. The first responders are often racing against time to save lives. A blocked rail crossing could add multiple minutes to their travel time. He worried that the added delay would escalate bad results when time is of the essence.

In areas like Chicago, where commuters rely on the railways as a mode of transportation, a rude awakening may be just around the corner. If the rail workers strike, nothing will be moving on freight company rails, not freight, not passenger trains, nothing. Amtrak has already suspended some long-distance trains ahead of the strike specter. Two key unions, the conductors and engineers, are holding out for better pay and a better quality of life.