Even as the coal miners' votes were being counted last night economic analysts were reporting good news for the nation: the strike's impact on the economy isn't as fearsome as had been thought.
With a few exceptions, factory production has been continuing as usual. And only 25,000 workers have been laid off - out of work force of 99 million.
The three weeks of relative labor peace that have prevailed since the miners last voted on a contract offer, early in March, have enabled utilities and factories to rebuild their coal supplies from stocks dug by nonunion miners.
As a result, analysts said, not until late April would the impact of a continued strike be really serious. The million-worker layoffs previously forecast for early April probably wouldn't occur until late May or June.
Admittedly, the strike has had some harsh effects. A few factories have cut back operations. Some consumers have been socked with extraordinarily high utility bills - particularly where local power companies have had to "borrow" oil-generated electricity.
In general, however, such hardships have been limited to a few specific instances. By and large, analysts say, the economy has survived the strike far more easily than had been expected. Most plants have trimmed their workweeks slightly rather than lay workers off even temporarily.
The amid impact is attributed primarily to two factors:
Utilities and factories have learned to cope with the coal shortage, in part by tapping previously unused sources and in part by switching to other forms of energy where possible. Consumption has been cut significantly in some hard-hit states, but overall figures show electric power use is not down very sharply.
Industry has been able to take advantage of substantially more non-union coal brought in from mines in western and mid-central states. Before the government stepped in to help protect non-union shipments, miners in these areas had been reluctant to step up production.
Before the large influx of nonunion coal, figures showed 52 out of 472 major companies had coal enough for 15 days or less. In the weeks since the government intervention, however, 41 of these have restocked to two-thirds of their "normal" supply. Only 11 were unable to obtain any deliveries.
Utilities generally are in fairly good shape. In Illinois, the state with the worst supply situation, the power companies have a 48-day stock.
The impact on inflation has been only moderate. Date Resources Inc., an economic consulting firm which has been keeping close tabs on the coal strike impact, estimates the higher power costs have added $6 a ton to the average price of steel.