Rail Woes: Union votes to accept new labor agreement, but what if others don’t get on board?

Producers are trying to secure alternative modes of transportation as the deadline approaches.

Over the weekend, another union announced it voted to accept the proposed rail labor agreement.

Nearly 5,000 members of the International Association of Machinists - District 19 voted to accept, saying it was the best deal for members. However, food and agricultural groups are still calling on Congress to intervene, warning ag products like ammonia could soon face embargo as the deadline draws closer.

Most producers remain worried that on-time grain deliveries will be threatened if other unions do not get on board. Despite some votes in favor, two major unions have already rejected a deal brokered by the White House in September. A strike would shut down freight rail for 40 percent of U.S. long-haul goods right before the holiday season. USDA economists say it would cripple the grain, ethanol, and meat sectors.

“If I’m an ethanol producer in the Midwest, I can get all the grain I want, but I only have a limited days’ space to move out the ethanol. So, I need the train cars in order to move the ethanol out. Or, even when it comes to a meatpacking facility, I can get the animals in, I can get the carcasses out, but all the rendered product that backs up my system is only a couple of days. Or, if I’m baking bread, I’ve got to have flour. That’s only a couple of days,” said Seth Meyer.

A strike could happen a week from Saturday unless all 12 unions vote to ratify the labor contracts, or Congress forces a deal. This is all happening as low water levels continue along the Mississippi River, but a grain elevator in Nebraska says they were lucky to get some rail cars loaded up before the approaching deadline.

“We were able to move about four shuttles of weed out of Hemming, Florida before corn harvest started. So, we actually had some pretty good luck with some rail logistics at that time, so we actually haven’t experienced that much of rail disruption because we haven’t seen shipping much of rail, maybe just single cars more than anything, like our millet that we ship. We’re seeing some slowness in that type of shipment,” said Bart Moseman.

As volatility continues in the transportation sector, Moseman says farmers in his area remain concerned about everything from weather to next year’s inputs.