In an attempt to stop a railroad strike, the Senate has approved a bill that forces unions to accept a tentative agreement reached earlier this year between railroad managers and their workers and make an imminent strike illegal — a bill already approved by the House, according to NPR. A measure to offer paid sick leave was also rejected.
A rail strike would significantly impact the retail and fuel industry.
“America’s railroads serve nearly every sector of our economy and provide access to global markets. The freight rail system is a lifeline for many industries, ensuring the transport of not only retail goods, but also essential food and energy supplies,” said President and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF) Matthew Shay prior to the Senate vote. “We commend the swift action of the House to approve this critical piece of legislation and prevent a potential catastrophic freight rail shutdown that could cost the economy $2 billion a day.”
A rail strike could cause significant disruptions throughout the supply chain, particularly at seaports, according to NBC News. When cargo comes into the U.S. on ships, it is often unloaded onto trains that take the containers to distribution points to be further transported by trucks, retailers have said.
“A rail strike, coupled with historically high levels of inflation, could wreak financial havoc and inflict catastrophic harm to American businesses, workers, consumers and the U.S. economy,” Shay said. “We are in peak holiday shopping season, and it is essential that retailers and other businesses are able to rely on these vital supply chain partners.”
A rail shutdown could also once again drive gas prices higher, just as oil has dropped to its lowest level since December because of the disruption it would cause to the shipment of ethanol, which is used in the vast majority of gasoline consumed in the U.S, said NBC News.
More than 70% of ethanol is transported by rail, and 25% of grain gets to ethanol processing plants by train, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
“Our country’s ethanol producers rely greatly on the railroads to move their products to market, and if the nation’s trains stop running, the nation’s ethanol biorefineries stop running too,” said NRF President Geoff Cooper. “We need a resolution quickly so the 400,000-plus jobs supported by our nation’s ethanol industry, and the rural economy itself, will not suffer the dire consequences of an interruption in rail service.”
Railroads handle the transportation of 30-40% of all goods, according to NPR, but take on a great share of products like ethanol, fertilizer and grains. Railroad managers warn that with a strike, there are few other options given ongoing trucking shortages and the risk of backlogging ports.
Not all in Congress were satisfied with the outcome of the vote, however, particularly due to the failed sick leave effort. Yet, President Biden insists efforts will be renewed for paid sick leave for workers of all industries.