Ag leaders hope railroads & unions can avert a September strike

Agriculture leaders are hoping the class one railroads and their employees can avert a national strike before September 15th.

Mike Steenhoek is with the U.S. Soy Transportation Coalition. He tells Brownfield, “Having a work stoppage whether it’s temporary or, certainly, lengthy would be very hurtful at this time of the year, at this juncture. We encourage both parties to come to a resolution that benefits both parties. We think that’s definitely possible.”

Tom Bressner with the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association says a railroad strike would have a big impact on agriculture, starting with western livestock operations. “All of the large dairy and cattle operations in like California and Arizona, all of that corn is moved out generally from Nebraska, Kansas, even into Iowa.”

Bressner tells Brownfield it’s not just agriculture that would be affected, since rail accounts for about 30% of all transportation, and shifting to more trucks is not a viable option. “Short-haul trucks are great but not nearly as efficient on the long haul if you can put it on the train, so it’s going to add tremendous cost, even if you can get the trucks in the first place.”

Steenhoek says President Biden appointed a three-person Presidential Emergency Board on July 18th to work with the railroads and the unions to come up with a proposal by mid-August.  Then, the two sides have until September 15th to accept or reject the board’s proposal.  At that point, the unions can vote to strike, and owners can have lockouts if they choose unless Congress intervenes.

Bressner says the real key now is to get both sides to sit down and try to avert a strike to keep the transportation system working. Ten labor unions are negotiating as a coalition and two other unions are negotiating as a separate coalition.   Issues include health benefits, pay raises retroactive to 2020, minimum train crew sizes, work rules, and vacation time.

Tom Bressner with Wisconsin Agri-Business Association discusses the railroad issues with Brownfield’s Larry Lee
Mike Steenhoek with the Soy Transportation Coalition discusses the railroad issues with Brownfield’s Larry Lee

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