Railroad worker strike could have big consequences in the Northwest

Author: Christine Pitawanich (KGW)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — It’s been tough for a lot of families this year, many of whom have struggled to absorb the costs of inflation at the grocery store and elsewhere. Now, with an impending nationwide railroad workers strike, there are concerns about how it will affect people in our area.

In the Pacific Northwest, industries rely on shipping and transportation, particularly on the nation’s railways. Portland State University marketing professor Tom Gillpatrick said that about 30% of goods in the U.S. are transported long distance via rail. He said it’s a mode of transportation that is second only to trucking.

“Rail for the United States is a big deal. A higher percentage of our freight moves by rail, for example, than in Europe,” said Gillpatrick, who holds the Juan Young Professorship in the School of Business at PSU.

In our region, that includes a number of commodities, including lumber.

“Think things like coal,” Gillpatrick said. “Things like wheat, which is really big in the Northwest. We do have a lot of wheat (that) is transported for us down the Columbia and exported … rail is really big,” he said.

That’s why the expected national railroad strike has a lot of people worried about the cost of it all.

“I’ve seen estimates of $2 billion a day impact as a sort of loss to the economy, due to the rail strike,” said Gillpatrick.

That extra cost, Gillpatrick said, could be passed down to consumers as the strain on the railway system spreads over to other modes of shipping and transportation.

“We’ve already had some disruptions, certainly the food supply chain. So this would be, you know, added to the list of woes,” he said.

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According to Gillpatrick, it’s unclear exactly how fast we could see an impact on our wallet but it’s likely there will be one if the strike starts and lingers.

“I think that there would be a bit of a lagged effect. But what you’re going to see is you’re going to see people — and I would suspect, even now — transport, purchasing and pricing reflect the anticipation of a potential real disruption,” said Gillpatrick.

For now, the anticipation is building as two unions with 57,000 conductors and engineers across the country, are saying they’re prepared to strike on Friday if there’s no deal on a contract that addresses their quality of life concerns.

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