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A potential freight strike could cripple Washington's economy

Data from the WSDOT shows Washington transports about $680 billion worth of goods. One-third of goods are moved by rail.

SEATTLE — The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to avert a freight rail strike that could cripple the shipping industry right in the middle of the holiday season.

The labor bill now goes to the senate where the subject of paid sick leave in the contract could delay a vote. 

Officials with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said the potential of a strike raises concern. 

"Washington State and the Washington State Department of Transportation are very supportive of unions in their ability to negotiate for benefits and pay," said Janet Matkin, communications manager for WSDOT Rail, Freight, and Ports division. "That's something that is very important to our leadership in the state. However, this particular situation would have major repercussions," 

Data from the WSDOT shows Washington transports about $680 billion worth of goods. One-third of goods are moved by rail.

That's about 130 million tons of products that Matkin said eventually end up on store shelves. 

"Consumers during the pandemic were enlightened as to the importance of the supply chain, and how that works... and so I think that right now, consumers are much more educated on, you know, what that means for them," Matkin said.

A strike could also be devastating for Washington's agricultural economy. 

For example, nearly 40% of wheat grown in eastern Washington for export gets to ports by rail, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce.

Take away rai and that leaves trucks. But, according to the Department of Commerce, it would take 180 trucks to carry the same amount of cargo as one train. 

Matkin said that would cripple the state's already congested highways. 

There are also winter driving conditions across the passes. 

"A lot of the trains that leave Washington State, go cross country, and take products from the ports to places like Chicago," Matkin said. "An important element of our economy is keeping those trains running."

Railway workers vow to strike by Dec. 9 if a new agreement can't be reached. 

Four of 12 railway unions rejected the White House-brokered deal earlier this year. 

George Gatzkiewicz, president of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) Local 518 Seattle/Everett told KING 5 the union voted yes on the contract, but it passed by just above 50%. 

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