Biden urges Congress to act to avoid rail strike

By Erin Voegele | November 29, 2022

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on legislation on Nov. 30 to adopt a tentative agreement between railroad workers and operators in an effort to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.

President Joe Biden on Nov. 28 called on Congress to immediately pass legislation to adopt the tentative agreement without any modifications or delay. That agreement was approved by labor and management negotiators in September. Since then, the majority of unions in the industry have voted to approve the deal.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the legislation Wednesday. “This week, the House will take up a bill adopting the Tentative Agreement – with no poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms – and send it to the Senate,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Nov. 28. “It is my hope that this necessary, strike-averting legislation will earn a strongly bipartisan vote, giving America’s families confidence in our commitment to protecting their financial futures.” Pelosi the following day confirmed plans to hold the vote Nov. 30.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Biden in calling on Congress to adopt the tentative agreement. "I take seriously overriding the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement," Vilsack said. "But in this case – where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt American agriculture and millions of other working people and families –Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal. There is no time to waste on political gamesmanship or the search for a more perfect resolution.

"I join the President in calling on Congress to quickly pass legislation adopting the tentative agreement between railroad workers and operators – without any modifications or delay – to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.

"The U.S. food and agricultural industry relies heavily on rail networks for the transport of inputs and raw materials and for taking products to market,” Vilsack continued. “A rail shutdown would have significant and long-lasting effects on some sectors of American food and agriculture and could be devastating to parts of our economy."

The Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy were among more than 400 groups that sent a letter to Congress on Nov. 28 urging swift resolution to the rail dispute.

“We are pleased to see President Biden calling for a speedy resolution to avert this potential disaster,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “Our country’s ethanol producers rely greatly on the railroads to move their products to market, and if the nation’s trains stop running, the nation’s ethanol biorefineries stop running too. We need a resolution quickly so the 400,000-plus jobs supported by our nation’s ethanol industry, and the rural economy itself, will not suffer the dire consequences of an interruption in rail service.”

According to the RFA, the majority of the ethanol produced in the United States—more than 70 percent—is transported via railway across the lower 48 states as well as into Canada and Mexico. In fact, over the last five years, U.S. railroads have transported an average of nearly 395,000 carloads of ethanol per year. In addition, roughly 25 percent of grain comes into ethanol plants by train, and an estimated 30 percent of outbound distillers grains, an important livestock feed produced at biorefineries, departs via rail.