A rail strike threatens as pressure increases with the approach of the holiday season.

Four of the largest rail unions in the United States have failed to reach contract agreements recently, over matters such as long required working hours, low paid sick leave, and other concerns about working conditions. Now as soon as December 9, 2022, we might see a nationwide rail strike.

There are few industries at all that wouldn’t be affected. Most channels of manufacturing or production only keep a few days’ worth of raw materials on hand, because a smooth-flowing stream of materials arriving only when they’re needed to meet demand for product is the most economical way of doing business. But that method, which is almost universal, is utterly dependent on reliable shipping both in and out.

Commuting and passenger rail would be affected too, as most passenger rail leases their track space from freight railroads.

An extended rail strike has not happened in the United States in over a century, because of laws passed to keep railway unions at the negotiation table as long as possible before a worker strike may begin. The law is to protect the U.S. economy from exactly the shutdown we may be seeing in December. The last rail strike here was in 1992, and Congress intervened after only two days, putting through an immediate law that banned both strikes and lockouts for the rail industry. It makes arbitration between railroads and their employees a matter for federal oversight. It does, however, allow the current prospective strike, as it is occurring after federally overseen arbitration has gone nowhere.

Should this rail strike occur, it is expected to cost the economy over $2 billion a day in lost revenue and man-hours. If it lasts a month, it could cost 700,000 jobs as production begins to shut down. Some of those jobs, however, could immediately be recouped – almost half a million new truck drivers would be in demand to replace rail.

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