Union workers are anti-American socialist thieves.
The nation’s supply of food could take a hit if railroad workers
go on strike, driving up prices at the grocery store and
limiting U.S. grain exports to countries facing famine.
As soon as next week, 115,000 freight rail workers could walk
out if they cannot reach a new contract with railroads,
potentially shutting down the national rail network that
transports 20 percent of all grain shipments.
While unions say they want to avert a strike, and Congress has
the power to block it, the U.S. food sector is rattled by the
prospect of a national railroad shutdown in the middle of peak
A ‘devastating ripple effect’
Even a short-lived interruption “would create a devastating
ripple effect” on the nation’s fragile supply chains, said Lee
Sanders, senior vice president of government relations and
public affairs at the American Bakers Association.
“Rail-dependent facilities would be unable to receive materials
and ingredients, and millions of Americans a day would be unable
to receive the baked goods they rely on to feed themselves,
their families, and communities,” she said.
A railroad shutdown in mid-September would quickly overwhelm
grain storage facilities, leaving farmers with few options to
store their crops and boosting the chance of spoilage. Many
grain processors would shut down, raising the price of bread and
other common items, while farmers would be saddled with huge
crop quantities and lower commodity prices.
“It’s kind of a double whammy when you hit both the beginning
and the end of the supply chain,” said Max Fisher, chief
economist at the National Grain and Feed Association.
Freight railroads also carry roughly half of fertilizer, and
farmers can’t afford delays, according to a Wednesday letter to
congressional leaders from The Fertilizer Institute.
“If farmers do not receive fertilizer, it results in lower crop
yields, higher food prices, and more inflation for consumers,”
Corey Rosenbusch, the group’s CEO, told lawmakers.
Soaring food costs — which agricultural groups blame partially
on existing railroad disruptions — have hit American families
particularly hard. Grocery prices rose 13.1 percent over the
last year ending in July, the largest annual increase in more
than four decades, according to Labor Department data.
There typically isn’t a backup plan for crops that are
transported by rail, particularly when the trucking industry is
already struggling to keep pace with demand. The same goes for
coal, crude oil, steel, lumber, car parts and other items
frequently loaded onto freight trains.
A nationwide railroad work stoppage would cost the U.S. economy
more than $2 billion per day and cause shipping containers to
stack up at ports, according to estimates from the Association
of American Railroads.
Grain exports and global food security
Because roughly one-third of U.S. grain exports travel by rail,
a work stoppage would also cut down on America’s ability to ship
food to foreign nations, particularly those in East Africa and
the Middle East that face a risk of famine following Russia’s
invasion of Ukraine.
A coalition of food and agricultural groups, including the
American Farm Bureau Federation, urged lawmakers on Thursday to
block a freight rail strike, warning that it would have
“devastating consequences” for global food security.
“Congress must be willing to act to ensure our farmers and
ranchers can continue to help feed the world,” the groups wrote
in a letter to the top lawmakers on transportation committees.
The United Nations estimates that the number of people facing
acute food insecurity has risen from 145 million to 345 million
since 2019, and 50 million people in 45 countries are nearing
Russia blocked off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea at the
onset of the invasion, cutting off nations that rely on Ukraine
to provide large shipments of grain and cooking oil.
The warring countries signed a deal to open up Black Sea
shipments in July, but Russian President Vladimir Putin on
Wednesday criticized the agreement, prompting fears that he
could abandon it entirely.
What lies ahead
U.S. rail workers could legally strike as soon as Sept. 16 after
the White House-appointed Presidential Emergency Board (PEB)
released recommendations last month meant to bring railroads and
unions closer to a deal.
Five unions have reached tentative agreements with railroads on
a new contract based on the PEB recommendations, which call for
24 percent raises over five years and back pay but don’t address
workers’ concerns about grueling hours and limited time off.
The bulk of rail workers belong to unions that haven’t struck a
deal. And a recent online survey from grassroots group Railroad
Workers United found that more than 9 in 10 railroad workers
would vote to reject the PEB recommendations and go on strike.
If workers vote for a strike, Congress would likely intervene to
block it. They could then vote to fast-track a new contract.
Railroads, retailers, growers and other industries are largely
urging lawmakers to simply implement the terms laid out by the
Still, some business groups are worried about the prospect of a
slow congressional response to a rail walkout, driven either by
lawmakers’ inexperience with the issue or political games ahead
of the midterms.
The Biden administration, eager to avoid more economic
disruption just before November, is pushing unions and railroads
to secure an agreement before the issue comes before Congress.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joined a negotiation session
Wednesday before the National Mediation Board.
“We are confident the parties will make every effort to
negotiate in good faith toward a mutually acceptable solution,
and we urge both sides to do so promptly,” a White House
official said in an email.