Potential rail strike could shift freight duties to truckers


(NewsNation) — Supply chain delays would be unavoidable if the trucking industry were tapped to fill a shipping gap created by a potential rail workers’ strike, with likely ramifications on the economy, commuters and the truck drivers already responsible for carrying 72% of the nation’s goods.

Nearly 5,000 railway workers at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) voted to reject a tentative contract agreement with railroads and authorize a strike, the union said Wednesday.

The strike will be delayed until noon on Sept. 29 rather than Friday’s original deadline to allow for continued negotiations between union leaders and railroads.

Idling all 7,000 long-distance daily freight trains in the U.S. would require more than 460,000 additional long-haul trucks every day, American Trucking Association President and CEO Chris Spear wrote in a letter to Congress earlier this month.

“As such, any rail service disruption will create havoc in the supply chain and fuel inflationary pressures across the board,” Spear wrote.

Keeping product moving during a freight rail strike would be a matter of resources which aren’t widespread enough to avoid disruption, said Todd Spencer, president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“There’s certainly not a shortage of truckers but then again there’s not any great big surplus either,” he said. “They wouldn’t have the capacity, wouldn’t have the equipment to jump in and fill the gap in any kind of quick fashion.”

Chris Eme, the transportation manager at American Dream Transportation, said it was “not a realistic possibility at all” that America’s truck drivers could fill the hole left behind by rail workers if a strike happens.

“We’re having supply chain issues as well, we can’t get equipment, companies can’t buy new trucks,” Eme said on NewsNation “Rush Hour.”

In July, President Joe Biden’s administration established an emergency board to help settle the dispute between the major rail carriers and a dozen unions. Last month, that board issued recommendations calling for 24% raises over a five-year period, $5,000 in bonuses and one additional paid leave day a year.

Nine of the unions reached tentative agreements in line with those recommendations but discussions with two others — which represent 57,000 conductors and engineers — are ongoing.

“I understand that transportation workers — whether they be railroad or truckers — they are essential,” Spencer said. “And if we want our supply chain to work, if we want to meet the needs of America, and others, then we need reliable people and we need to recognize the value that those people bring.”

If a deal isn’t reached, Congress could step in to prevent a walkout.

Delaying a possible strike through congressional action, however, could only exacerbate the situation, Spear told lawmakers.

“A possible strike or lockout in October or November is arguably worse than one next week—although any disruption will cost the nation billions of dollars of lost productivity,” Spear wrote in his letter.

Already bracing for a strike, passenger rail companies such as Amtrak and Chicago’s commuter system Metra are adjusting their operations, with some cancelations already planned or in place. More people driving to work in lieu of public transportation could further hinder deliveries.

“More cars on the road is going to have a tendency to create more congestion and things like that,” Spencer said. “That’s certainly not what most truckers would want to see. So alternatives to driving are a good idea to free up the road for our folks who are essential travelers.”

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