Federal officials are working to try and head off a rail strike that could have a major impact on Iowa.
The Iowa DOT’s Stuart Anderson says things are in a formal presidential cooling-off period that is winding down. “That period ends at 12:01a-m on Friday. So if the railroads in the last few remaining labor unions do not reach voluntary agreements by that time, then it could either mean, a strike, or it could mean that the railroads locked out the workforce,” Anderson says.
He says Iowa’s rails system was hit by the pandemic just like all other modes of transportation. “They have bounced back. You know, the rail traffic is is somewhat tied to the economy and in some perspectives is a leading indicator of the economic outlook,” he says. “So the measures of railcar loads have been mixed here recently, but we have seen them at least above recently above the levels in 2021 and 2020 anyway.”
Fourth District Iowa Congressman Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, is hoping things get settled before Friday’s deadline. “This is really big. There’s a lot of meetings happening on Capitol Hill right now to avoid this rail strike,” Feenstra says. “This would be catastrophic for our ethanol biodiesel plants, for moving our commodities out of Iowa. Union Pacific, you name it, there’s some big railroads here and everything would stop.”
Feenstra says he’s concerned about the so-called Rural Two rail lines that feed into the bigger lines, as they may also be at risk of being shut down. “We’re doing everything we can on the federal side,” Feenstra says. “I know the administration is trying to meet with the union railroads and trying to figure out what can be done and how we get to this to a resolution. I mean, this cannot happen right before harvest. This would be very, very catastrophic.”
Union leaders accuse Omaha-based Union Pacific and BNSF of rejecting their proposals for new sick time policies.
(Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City contributed to this story)