By Paige Anderson
WASHINGTON—Later today, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to debate and vote on legislation that will prevent a strike by freight-rail workers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the chamber had the majority votes needed to pass legislation, which would impose the tentative agreement brokered by President Biden earlier in September.
Eight of the 12 unions had initially approved the agreement, and four unions rejected the deal. A strike was averted with a “cooling-off” period to allow for continued discussions between rail companies and rail workers unions, but that period is set to expire on December 9. President Biden urged Congress to avert a strike by imposing the agreement, stating, “The economy is at risk.”
The main unresolved issue is sick leave, with some unions wanting additional days beyond what was included in the tentative agreement. With several members of Congress in support of the additional sick leave benefits, the House will also vote on adding seven days of paid sick leave in a procedural move that will allow the Senate to hold an expedited vote on this issue. The Senate is expected to take up the bill as soon as it passes the House.
One of the major concerns of a potential rail strike is how it could impact fuel supply. While little gasoline and diesel is shipped by rail, most of the ethanol is transported by rail from the Midwest where it is produced to markets around the country. Ethanol is a vital source of octane and most gasoline sold in the United States contains 10% ethanol. A supply disruption such as a rail strike will have a significant impact on the convenience and fuel retailing industry. As reported by OPIS, the U.S. sells about 9 million barrels per day, which means that about 900,000 barrels per day of ethanol is required for blending.
As part of the drum beat of support for quick action to avert a strike, the Shippers Coalition, which NACS is a member, called on Congress, the White House, railroads and union leaders to act quickly to prevent a rail strike from further damaging an already fragile supply chain. The coalition stated in a press release: “The ongoing negotiations between the unions and the railroads must result in certainty for consumers looking for critical goods and for shippers across the country who ship products via both rail and truck. Any disruption I the supply chain will have detrimental impacts on the ability for good to reach consumers and further deteriorate the country’s supply chain.”
Paige Anderson is the NACS director of government relations and can be reached at email@example.com.