On November 28, the Retail Council of New York State joined more than 400 organizations in a letter urging Congress to intervene in a potential railroad strike. The letter, addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, outlines the risks of a railroad strike to the American economy. To view the signatures of the signees, click here.
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Schumer, and Republican Leaders McConnell and McCarthy:
We write you today on a matter of grave urgency. Once again, the United States is facing the threat of a major rail strike between the major freight railroads and 12 labor unions, the second such time in less than three months. A stoppage of rail service for any duration would be extremely damaging to American families and our economy, costing $2 billion dollars per day.1 As provided for under federal law and consistent with past practice, Congress must be prepared to intervene before the end of the current “status quo” period on December 9 to ensure continued rail service should railroads and four unions fail to reach a voluntary agreement. A strike by any one union would assuredly result in a stoppage of national rail service.
While the recent decision to have all four unions align the end of their “status quo” to December 9 is good, in reality the decision is hardly helpful. Many businesses and communities rely on regular, uninterrupted rail service. The uncertainty of rail service during this year’s protracted contract negotiations has created enormous anxiety.2 In September, the mere possibility of a rail service stoppage created significant disruptions to the timely delivery of critical goods and products. The freight railroads must safely reduce operations and secure their customers’ goods days in advance of a potential strike, meaning businesses and communities saw interruptions in the delivery of fertilizers, chlorine, and other products essential to clean water, our food supply, and electricity generation. Many businesses will see the impacts of a national rail strike well before December 9 – through service disruptions and other impacts potentially as early as December 5.3 The sooner this labor impasse ends, the better for our communities and our national economy.
A potential rail strike only adds to the headwinds facing the U.S. economy. A rail stoppage would immediately lead to supply shortages and higher prices. The cessation of Amtrak and commuter rail services would disrupt up to 7 million travelers a day. Many businesses would see their sales disrupted right in the middle of the critical holiday shopping season. Even a short-term rail strike would have enormous impacts. The American agricultural community could see disruptions in transporting 6,300 carloads of food and farm products that are carried by rail daily. It would also halt the delivery of key chemicals necessary to our communities including chlorine, which is necessary for effective water and wastewater treatment operations. In many cases, businesses and communities rely on regular rail service and may not have significant reserves, even in the event of a short-term strike.
No one wins when the railroads stop running. Congress recognized their necessity to interstate commerce and America’s economic health with the passage of the Railway Labor Act and past congressional interventions in rail labor disputes when other steps fail. Indeed, Congress has intervened 18 times since 1926 in labor negotiations that threaten interstate commerce and there is no reason why Congress should deviate from this record today. While a voluntary agreement with the four holdout unions is the best outcome, the risks to America’s economy and communities simply make a national rail strike unacceptable. Therefore, absent a voluntary agreement, we call on you to take immediate steps to prevent a national rail strike and the certain economic destruction that would follow.
Thank you for your time and attention.
1 Association of American Railroads, “The Economic Impact of a Railroad Shutdown,” September 2022, https://www.aar.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/AAR-Rail-Shutdown-Report-September-2022.pdf
2 AP News, “Rail strike worry prompts businesses to seek WH intervention,” by Josh Funk, October 27, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/biden-business-economy-congress-government-and-politics-6b60d53fefc7b85f301b0a3e7011715b
3 Association of American Railroads, “Railroad Suspension of Operations” November 2022, https://www.aar.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/AAR-Railroad-Suspension-of-Operations-Fact-Sheet.pdf