As if the U.S. economy didn't have enough headwinds to contend with---supply chain backups, runaway inflation---now the first railway strike in 30 years threatens to shudder a major part of the nation's economic engine. Friday is the deadline for an agreement on a new contract for unions representing some 90,000 railroad workers. A strike would bring an estimated 40% of U.S. freight to a halt, but would also impact commercial rail travel. Amtrak has already begun suspending some long-distance routes in anticipation of the possible strike, which would impact some 60,000 Amtrak employees, as well as freight lines used for some of its routes.
The timing of the potential work stoppage makes the consequences both economical and political, with the midterm elections less than two months away. "We've already been facing all kinds of supply chain challenges with delays at the ports, troubles with trucking, and now a potential rail strike," says Alan Davis, manufacturing and supply chain expert with i5Services. "This only adds to the economic challenges we're already facing, and certainly in an election year it's a heavy and critical issue."
If rail workers elect to strike, federal law has a safeguard that allows Congress to stop it. But so far, it remains to be seen if there is the will or appetite for such a move on Capitol Hill. "I certainly hope the White House and Congress will at least take into consideration stepping in to help ease or alleviate the strike, to ensure that we have a continuing and uninterrupted supply chain," says Davis.
While Congress mulls short-term actions, Davis believes the long-term solution is more localization of production. "If we can begin to produce more locally first, and to source more locally first, it eases some of the burdens on our transportation system to move goods and services around our country," he tells KTRH.
"Certainly, I think we can be a little more innovative in the way we're approaching the transportation and movement of our products around the country."