Agriculture companies, including Foster Farms, are starting to get nervous as no more rail service means no more feed for their animals.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) says it expects that Biden will appoint a PEB in the final hour before the deadline. However, Biden is currently in Israel announcing new Palestinian aid and expressing support for a two-state "peace and safety" solution at some point in the future.
Rail bottlenecks over the past several months are already impacting feed shipments, either with delays or cancellations. This is hitting farmers and ranchers hard throughout California and the southwest.
Some feed users in California say they have to pay $3 over the CBOT (Chicago Board of Trade) to secure grain shipments by truck – and the worst part is that the problems have only just begun.
Labor issues at the railroads were supposed to have been resolved by now, but that is not the case. Instead of reaching a solution this summer as planned, the industry is expecting its issues to drag on into the fall and even winter, which is terrible news for the fall harvest season.
"What I'm hearing from our members is there are fewer equipment issues and that the equipment and engines seem to not be breaking down, but the train times – the amount of time it's taking to get the trains and the reliability of receiving them – are still quite a problem in quite a few areas of the country," announced Mike Seyfert, president and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA).
As many as 115,000 rail workers could end up walking off the job on Sunday, July 17, if Biden fails to appoint a PEB. And even if he does, that will not necessarily guarantee a resolution.
The rail industry is fully prepared, it says, to strike on Monday if nothing happens by Sunday. The White House, meanwhile, says it "is going through the standard process that has been used in the past when considering a PEB," which leaves the situation unclear.
The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) says "the railroads expect a PEB will be appointed in this dispute before the end of the 30-day cooling off period, as has been the case in prior unresolved national rail negotiations." Other industry players reportedly believe the same.
If a PEB is appointed, the board has 30 days to make settlement recommendations, during which time a strike is prohibited. Then, there would be another 30-day buffer period for either implementation or a strike.
Another problem that a resolution will not fix, however, is the labor shortage situation. There are simply not enough people willing to work the railroads anymore, we are told, which means those who do work in the industry end up with more responsibilities.
This is a major point of contention in the negotiations as workers say they need a lot more pay to make up for the extra work they are having to do, especially as rail companies tighten the noose on them in pursuit of higher profits.
"If this slowdown continues at this rate, we risk not having space for the 2022 harvest for our 7,000 farmer members by an estimated total bushels of 15,750,000!" reads a letter from Landus Coop, which represents 7,000 farmer owners in Iowa, addressing serious issues with the rail industry even before a potential strike.
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