Congress’ railworkers’ deal is good news for Corpus Christi port

The Port of Corpus Christi is one of the local economic drivers that use railroads to get what they need to do business successfully.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As one of the Coastal Bend and nation’s leading industries to rely on railroads, The Port of Corpus Christi has paid close attention to rail-union workers’ threats to strike across the country.

The United States Senate passed legislation Thursday night to avert the shutdown. It enforces a tentative railworker contract that could allocate paid sick leave for rail-union workers, one of their key concerns.

It’s a measure that has port officials breathing a sigh of relief.

“We have a significant dependency on rail,” said Port of Corpus Christi CEO Sean Strawbridge. “You know, the Port of Corpus Christi relies on four modalities: water, roads, pipeline, and, certainly, rail.”

Strawbridge attended the Association of Chemical Industry of Texas’ South Texas Economic Forum luncheon Thursday. The event’s focus was the local economy, which would see a ripple effect from a rail strike, so the agreement was welcome news for Strawbridge.

“Seeing that intervention at a time when our economy is teetering, one way or the other, certainly gives some solace to the market.”

Many of the oil-and-gas industry leaders gathered at the Al Amin Shrine in Corpus Christi for the forum, as well as businesses who work alongside them.

Local general contractor Mirage Industrial Group provides services for the city of Corpus Christi, Flint Hills Resources and OxyChem on projects including tank-farm construction. Business development representative David Cook said business is starting to improve.

“We are looking up,” he said. “We got a lot more biz coming in. We’re actually landing a few opportunities and stuff of that nature, so I think we’re looking good. I am just concerned about the inflation.”

Inflation throws an added wrinkle into the economy, along with the rail sector’s uncertainty, but other companies that work in the Coastal Bend have found ways to remain stable.

Horizon Environmental cleans up railroad spills, so if rails shut down, it would have to rely on the other parts of their business to stay fully operational.

“Fortunately, we are used to that because our business is spill-response and, in between spills, you have to have other jobs, right? Because you can’t survive on that,” said Horizon Environmental Account Executive Stephanie Wood. “So, we do industrial cleaning, and we do remediation work. We do tank cleanings, so we can usually find other ways to stay busy and keep the business going.”

The Senate’s rail-worker measure will now be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law, but many rail workers have reacted to the vote with open dismay, saying the deal brokered by The White House does not meet workers’ demands for paid leave.

Biden said he’s committed to getting rail workers what they want, but that the current agreement is focused on stopping the strike, a move that significantly benefits the port and the local economy, which Strawbridge expects to be flat in 2023 despite energy demands being strong.

“We do have rail expansion projects as we continue to see robust increases in railcar movements,” he said. “So, you are going to see more significant infrastructure investment from the Port of Corpus Christi in the next few years in the rail sector.”

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