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Possible rail strike would have big impact on truckers in Montana

Congress poised to force agreement
Posted at 8:35 AM, Dec 01, 2022

BILLINGS — Trains are one of the lifebloods for transporting goods in America but as an ever-present strike looms, it could impact those on the railway and thousands of truckers.

Bryant Ceynar is a conductor for BNSF Rail at the Laurel railyards.

"I grew up in a railroad family. My father, he’s been an engineer for 26 years and he and I have talked about this, how bad things have gotten in the last four years. Even he agrees this has gotten out of hand and it's horrible," Ceynar said.

And he knows more than most why many rail workers are drawing a line in the sand, demanding higher pay and better benefits.

"When you make $22.1 billion in profit, and you can’t offer a pay raise or go in on a contract that’s fair. We’re already subject to call 24/7 most of us are. There’s a reason why there’s that average that railroaders typically don’t live long after their career. It beats you up," added Ceynar.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House passed a bipartisan measure that would force union rail workers to come back on the job on terms earlier agreed upon in negotiations with the Biden administration, even if a strike is authorized or the companies' lock them out. While the vote is a big step toward resolution, it still must be approved by the U.S. Senate.

If an agreement is not reached by Dec. 9,, much of the nation’s economy that depends on freight transportation would be disrupted. Some estimates say up to $2 billion a day.

And that will have a ripple effect.

Tanner Smith is the operations manager with Hi-Ball Trucking in Billings. He and others in the trucking industry are bracing for the impact of a rail strike.

"A rail strike in the short term, I guess you could say would be great for trucking. There’s going to be a lot of extra loads available for trucks to haul so they can justify higher pricing. We view it as a band-aid to a larger problem. The way I understand the rail is you can get about five truckloads on one rail car. So, you’re talking about a pretty substantial amount of available freight that you’re going to have to cover. It’s going to be tough to cover, which means you’re going to pay more to get it moved, get it done on time and ultimately that cost gets passed onto the consumer," said Smith.

Smith said that the boom in business "would be great" for trucking companies like his but it's also a "double-edged sword."

"If you were to ask most truckers or even me, 'oh, rail strike great', that means great things for me for rates but ultimately, it's not a good thing not only for the local economy but for the national economy," added Smith.

And he pointed out gas prices as a prime example.

"A lot of that refinery that comes in on bulk rail from out of the country up in Canada, we process a lot of that oil in Billings and Laurel. So, a strike, if that’s not flowing in or they’re having to truck it in it's going to get a lot more expensive and you’re going to see it almost immediately at the pumps," Smith added.

Both Smith and Ceynar are hopeful the deal reached Wednesday will be approved by the Senate.

"I think that the grounds that they’re striking on, in my opinion, are fair and I hope that they get it resolved," said Smith.

"To me, it's simple fixes for the biggest issues on their end but they’re just not willing to negotiate with us on that and that’s just kind of where we’re at right now," Ceynar said.