ST. LOUIS – A labor dispute involving the freight rail industry is currently in a holding pattern. A cooling-off period will expire next month.

The hope is that negotiations can resume and lead to an agreement. Workers have been pushing for better pay and work conditions. Inflation has added fuel to the dispute in recent months.

Gregory DeYong is an associate professor of operations management at Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale.

“If inflation is running right around eight percent now and there’s an eight percent raise in the contract, it really looks like they’re just holding their ground,” he said.

A disruption of rail freight could lead to a stoppage of a supply chain already experiencing challenges. The low river levels along the Mississippi River have already slowed barge traffic.

“It’s really a bad conjunction of circumstances to have the river traffic restricted at the same time that we’re thinking there might be a real problem with rail transportation,” DeYong said.

A spokesperson for Amtrak said the following about passenger service:

“Amtrak continues to monitor ongoing freight rail management-labor contract negotiations. The negotiations do not involve Amtrak or the Amtrak workforce.”

DeYong said even though Amtrak is not directly involved, passengers would be affected if one or more unions went on strike and other unions honored those actions. He said Amtrak trains carrying passengers spend most of their time on freight rails.

“The freight companies are responsible for the scheduling, the maintenance, the signals,” DeYong said. “So, if the freight companies’ workers go on strike, Amtrak has to stop service as well.”

If negotiations fail to get back on track and there is no progress, Congress could eventually act.