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4 Rail Unions Vote Not to Ratify Rail Contract; Now What Happens?
Twelve rail unions have completed voting on the tentative national rail
agreement with four unions voting no.
DTN Basis Analyst
The final votes on the rail tentative national agreement are in and there
are now four rail-worker unions that have voted not to ratify.
On Nov. 21, the remaining two unions published the results of their members'
votes. Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)
voted to ratify national rail agreement with the nation's Class I railroads;
operating craft (Train & Engine service) members of the Transportation Division
of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation
Workers have voted to reject it, while non-operating craft members
(Yardmasters) have voted to ratify their national agreement, noted a joint
statement by the BLET and SMART-TD unions.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) membership,
the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) and the International Brotherhood
of Boilermakers (IBB) previously voted not to ratify. As of Nov. 21, membership
voting results at SMART-TD, which holds two separate contracts, were split.
So, what happens next?
If no agreement is reached by Dec. 8, rail workers could strike at 12:01
a.m. on Dec. 9, or the railroads could lock workers out. There are two unions
whose cooling off period ends Dec. 4, but it is likely they will push that
ahead to Dec. 8 now. If they do not, that would push the strike date up for all
If a strike occurs, Congress could force the unions back to work and also
force them to take the tentative agreement proposed by President Biden's
Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) on Aug. 16. Congress has enacted legislation
in prior disputes, requiring the parties to a railroad labor dispute to submit
to another emergency board or to accept a board's recommendations.
The current negotiations began in November 2019 between a coalition of labor
unions and several railroads. After more than two years of bargaining, the
unions requested the assistance of the National Mediation Board (NMB) in
January 2022. On June 17, the NMB announced that both sides would exit
mediation without a new contract in place.
Enter the PEB. While a tentative agreement was put in place on Aug. 16 and
then presented to the rail unions on Sept. 15 to put before their members for a
vote, there are some key issues missing.
One major issue is the lack of paid sick days offered. Union workers are
specifically referring to paid sick days that workers need when they wake up
with flu symptoms, a migraine or have a sick child at home to care for, noted
National Public Radio who spoke to a rail worker.
"We carried a railroad on our backs through a pandemic," roadway mechanic
Reece Murtagh told NPR. He was on a team repairing rail in the Berkshires in
the spring of 2020 when everything around them was closed. "We were surviving
off Gatorade and peanuts. Everyone in the team got COVID. We never skipped a
The unions had requested 15 paid sick days, up from zero. The PEB responded
by recommending just one additional personal day, saying, "Disputes over
[attendance policy] issues, however, are best resolved in the grievance and
arbitration process, not by an overly broad and very costly proposal that would
create 15 paid days a year that, while nominally labeled as sick leave days,
would be structured to be used on demand as a means of permitting employees to
better balance work-life needs and would effectively be personal days that
could not be denied for any reason by the carriers."
Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Ian Jefferies said
on their website, "Rarely in modern history has the U.S. freight rail industry
been such a focus of national attention. Thankfully, there are some
foundational truths that observers should note, namely that railroad jobs are
among the most critical in the country -- and are justly compensated
accordingly. Ratification of new contracts molded by the Biden administration,
and endorsed by labor leaders at the bargaining table, will only improve the
quality and benefits of railroading."
Jefferies added, "Railroads stand ready to reach new deals based upon the
PEB framework with our remaining unions, but the window continues to narrow as
deadlines rapidly approach. Let's be clear, if the remaining unions do not
accept an agreement, Congress should be prepared to act and avoid a disastrous
$2 billion a day hit to our economy."
Railroads are governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), enacted in 1926,
amended in 1934 and 1936, a federal statute designed to bring the parties to
agreement without disruptions to rail transportation. In the last freight
railroad dispute that involved a PEB, the final cooling-off period was extended
several times without congressional involvement before a new agreement was
reached in April 2012 without a strike or lockout, according to the
Congressional Research Service (CRS).
SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement on Nov. 21, "This can
all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be
in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American
Ferguson added, "The ball is now in the railroads' court; let's see what
they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table, but the railroad
executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly
bad mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for
Joint statement by BLET and SMART unions Nov. 21:
AAR Nov. 21 press release:
More on the Rail Labor Act:
DTN Nov. 7 rail story:
Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn
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