U.S. ag industry watching rail situation

U.S. ag industry watching rail situation
Sep 14, 2022

Thousands of workers are set to strike Friday

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

The U.S. ag industry is keeping its eye on railroads and if some trains will be operating on Friday.

Thousands of rail workers across the U.S. are prepared to strike on Friday if unions like the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and railway carriers like Union Pacific, can’t reach working agreements.

In August, President Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board outlined recommendations to help resolve the ongoing labor disputes.

That proposal would immediately provide workers with pay increases of about $11,000 per employee upon ratification.

Employees are seeking additional wages and better health care coverage, something they feel they’re not receiving.

“Penalizing engineers and conductors for getting sick or going to a doctor’s visit with termination must be stopped as part of this contract settlement,” Dennis Pierce, president of BLET, said in a Sept. 11 statement. “Let us repeat that, our members are being terminated for getting sick or for attending routine medical visits as we crawl our way out of worldwide pandemic.”

As these negotiations continue, farmers are busy harvesting their crops.

Any delays on the railroads will cause issues for producers, said Greg Greving, a farmer from Chapman, Neb., and member of the United Soybean Board.

“It’s gonna be devastating because just about all of the soybeans that are produced here go to a crush plant, and that crush plant is in Hastings, and they send two unit trains of soybean meal per week to the Pacific Northwest,” he said, WOWT reported. “That is loaded on bulk vessels there and shipped to Southeast Asia.”

In addition, grain elevators may fill up without access to rail service.

That could post more issues for producers.

“There is such a backlog in traffic that it will take a long time to get things back to normal,” Stu Letcher, executive vice president of the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, told KFYR. “It might get to a point where they just quit taking grain.”

Agriculture groups are urging Congress to prevent any rail disruptions.

“A freight rail stoppage would occur as America’s farmers harvest their crops and would exacerbate global food insecurity and likely contribute to further geopolitical instability in regions that experience famine. Congress must be willing to act to ensure our farmers and ranchers can continue to help feed the world,” a Sept. 8 letter from the Agriculture Transportation Coalition said.

In addition to effects on agriculture, a railway strike could have significant impacts on the entire U.S. economy.

A report from the Association of American Railroads estimates a nationwide service interruption could cost more than $2 billion per day.

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