Congress is being pressed to pass legislation ending the threat of a nationwide railroad strike. Hurry up. A walkout could occur as early as next week, with damaging supply chain disruptions expected to begin within days.
As lawmakers prepare their arguments for or against intervening in stalled labor negotiations between major freight railroads and four holdout unions, one thing that’s not up for debate is whether the economy would be crippled if the trains stopped.
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President Joe Biden warned Tuesday that in the event of a rail work stoppage, up to 765,000 Americans “could be thrown out of work in the first two weeks alone.”
The Association of American Railroads, which represents giant carriers such as BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific, estimates a rail shutdown would cost the US economy $2 billion a day – and every American would feel it.
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The US rail system moves goods equivalent to 467,000 long-haul trucks every day, carrying hazardous chemicals, fertilizers, clothing, household goods and perishables. With the trucking industry already understaffed, currently short of about 80,000 drivers, it would be impossible for other shipping options to fill the void in the event of a shutdown.
Shutting down the rail system would be economically destructive in normal times, but expected to be catastrophic in the current economic environment. Supply chains still recovering from disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic would be decimated, with persistent labor shortages and a lack of alternatives leaving little room for contingency plans. Prices for everyday goods would rise further as inflation continues to hover near a four-decade high.
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In addition to the current economic difficulties, the country is considering the potential for a strike in the middle of the holiday shopping season, affecting both retailers and customers.
Even online purchases would be delayed. The AAR says UPS is perhaps the biggest rail customer in the country and stopping a single train carrying 100 UPS containers would prevent 200,000 packages from reaching customers’ doors.
US ports, plagued by gridlock last year amid a post-pandemic surge in demand, would no doubt be hit again by disruptions in the event of a rail strike, given that nearly 30% of US freight shipments by weight are transported by rail.
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Beyond the industries that would shut down, Amtrak and other commuter trains that use major railroad tracks would be parked, disrupting travel for some 7 million passengers a day.
The huge impact of the railroad industry on the economy is why Congress passed the Railway Labor Act in 1926 in the first place, giving itself the power to step in and impose conditions to avoid a strike. .
But the intervention is already facing opposition on both sides of the political aisle, paving the way for a potential deadlock in Congress that could continue beyond the Dec. 9 strike deadline.
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Chad Pergram and Reuters of FOX News contributed to this article.
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