House passes bill to avert rail strike

The House has passed a bipartisan bill that would prevent a nationwide rail strike.  It passed on a 290 to 137 vote. The measure, H.J. Res 100, would implement a tentative agreement that was recommended by a presidential board, but was rejected by four of the twelve rail unions. 

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration and will need 60 votes to pass.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Kent Bacus says the pressure is on. “Because the cooling-off period for unions is set to expire on Friday, December 9th,” he says.  “But any delays could result in supply chain disruptions as early as this weekend.”

For example, Bacus says there are hazardous materials and other products that are used to make fertilizers and those ingredients needed for chemicals can’t be stuck on the rails if a strike were to occur.

Matt Ziegler, manager of public policy and regulatory affairs with the National Corn Growers Association, tells Brownfield swift action by the Senate is critical to avoid a shutdown.

“It would cost various sectors about 2 billion dollars per day,” Ziegler said. “Agricultures makes up about 15% of freight rail service. Any sort of period of time where we don’t have employees on the system would be awful.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall tells Brownfield the economy doesn’t need another roadblock to transportation challenges in the ag supply chain as farmers send their crops to market. “It’s also about getting stuff to our farms to grow the next crop, and we surely don’t want to be behind the eight ball when it comes to the next season,” he says.

Former USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey, CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, says he is optimistic the Senate will take pass the measure and get it to the President’s desk for signature. “We have a lot of members that are grain elevators, ag retailers bringing in fertilizer other products by rail,” he says.  “That are shipping grain or feed products as well by rail. It would be phenomenally disruptive to actually have a strike.”

More than 200 members of the Ag Transportation Working Group are urging Congress to deliver a bipartisan bill to the President’s desk.  The groups warn that a strike or a lockout, combined with existing challenges in the rail system, at ports, with trucking, and record-low water levels on the Mississippi River would have harmful consequences for agriculture and broader economies.

The House also voted on a second bill that would add seven additional days of paid sick leave to the contract, that passed 221-207 on a nearly party-line vote.  It is uncertain whether that bill has enough support to pass the Senate.

**Comments from Kent Bacus with NCBA were courtesy of audio shared by NCBA**

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