December 2, 2022

Largest railroad union rejects labor deal, raising risk of a crippling strike

6 min read

New York
CNN Business

America faces a growing threat. National freight rail strike in two weeks. Rank-and-file members of the nation’s largest rail union, which represents the industry’s conductors, rejected a tentative labor deal with the freight railroad, the union announced Monday.

The nation’s second-largest rail union, which represents engineers, ratified its contract. But the failure of the conductors to ratify their agreement is another setback. Avoidance efforts a strike.

With these votes, all 12 rail unions have now completed their ratification process, with members of eight of the unions voting in favor of the deal and four against it. The four unions that voted no will remain at work until at least early next month while negotiations are held to try to avert a strike that could disrupt the country’s still-struggling supply chain. There could be massive disruptions. The overall economy.

If even one of the dozen railroad unions goes on strike, the remaining 11 will honor picket lines by closing railroads.

If the strike continues for a long period, it could lead to shortages and higher prices of goods, including fuel and food. If the four unions rejecting the deals are unable to reach new deals before the strike deadline, Congress can dictate. Railroad workers remain at work or return to work.

Two unions that released voting results. Monday There are the transportation division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation Union (SMART-TD), which represents about 28,000 conductors, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which represents about 24,000 engineers. Engineers and conductors make up a two-man train crew.

The two unions reached a tentative deal in September. A marathon 20-hour negotiation session Hours before their strike deadline.

President Joe Biden called the agreements “a victory for tens of thousands of rail workers and their dignity and the dignity of their work.” He intervened directly in the last round of negotiations, but his deal definition was not enough to win approval from rank-and-file members of the conductors union.

The deals almost got the support they needed to be ratified by both unions. One was ratified by engineers, with 53.5% voting yes, while the other was a very narrow defeat by conductors with either a small majority or a near majority voting for ratification.

The conductors’ vote ultimately failed because union rules required each of the five classes of workers within the union to approve the deal.

Although 64.5% of “yardmasters”, comprising the union’s 1,300 membership, supported the deal, 50.87% of the union’s train and engine service members voted against ratification. The union did not release the total vote tally of SMART-TD members.

The no vote follows the rejection of a similar contract by rank-and-file members of three other rail unions — one representing track maintenance workers, another whose members maintain signal systems and drivers, and a third representing locomotive mechanics and welders.

The Association of American Railroads, an industry trade group, told CNN last week that railroads remain optimistic. Approach new deals which can be ratified by the membership without any strike. He reiterated that hope on Monday after the latest vote.

“While the railroads are committed to reaching an agreement with these remaining unions, the timeline for that happening is short,” the AAR statement said.

One of the unions that had previously rejected the deal, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED), announced on Monday that it was moving its strike date back to December 9, so conductors Be in accordance with the strike date and one of these other unions.

And he suggested that the four unions should hold talks together before the December 9 joint strike date.

One union that could go on strike before Dec. 9 is the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen [BRS], could go on strike on December 5 at 12:01 a.m. ET. Last week, BRS President Michael Baldwin told CNN that the union does not intend to push back its strike deadline “at this time.”

Even within the many unions that voted for the deals, there was significant opposition, as shown in the 46.5% of engineers who voted no.

Bargains that are voted on are profitable for union members. They include an immediate 14% raise with back pay dating to 2020, plus a total of 24% salary increases over the four-year life of the contracts, which run through 2024. Union members will also receive an annual cash bonus of $1,000.

All told, once the contract is ratified, back pay and bonuses will pay union members an average of $11,000 per worker.

But it’s not the salary that has been the sticking point in the negotiations. These are work rules and quality of life issues, such as staffing levels and paid sick time, that are not covered by temporary contracts.

So far, railroad management has rejected proposals by union negotiators to include sick pay as a way to win endorsements from the rank and file.

Congress is already facing calls from a wide range of business groups to act to stop the strike. About 30% of the country’s freight is transported by rail, when measured by the weight of the freight and the distance it travels.

AAR joined calls for congressional action if new deals cannot be reached.

“Congress has historically intervened to prevent disruptions in the rail system. In the event that the four unions remain unwilling to enter into agreements … Congress must act and establish those terms.” must remain which are supported by the majority of unions, guaranteeing certainty for rail customers and the wider economy,” he said in his statement.

Labor Secretary Marty Walshwho was involved in the negotiations that led to the deals that averted a strike again in September, told CNN earlier this month that while he prefers to reach a new round of negotiated agreements, a strike for Congress It will be necessary to take action to stop it.

The White House said Monday that it is looking to labor and industry parties involved in negotiations to resolve the rail dispute on its own before a critical December deadline.

“As the president has said from the beginning, a shutdown is unacceptable because it will hurt jobs, families, farms, businesses and communities across the country,” a White House official told CNN.

The official added: “The majority of unions have voted to ratify the provisional agreement, and the best option is still for the parties to work it out themselves.”

Asked by CNN’s Jeremy Diamond on Monday what he was doing to stop the rail strike, President Biden replied, “We’re going to talk about it today.”

But unlike in July, when Biden managed to prevent unions from going on strike by naming a panel to try to find a solution that both sides could live with, it’s not Biden’s job. Congress has, if new labor agreements can be made. cannot be reached.

All unions oppose congressional intervention and want strike authorization to increase pressure on the railroads to achieve their bargaining goals, although they once again want the Department of Labor to facilitate negotiations. Will not oppose.

“We do not believe that it requires the influence of any outside party or to rationalize the railroads on behalf of their businesses or workers,” BMWED said in a statement. “But it would be useful for those third parties to start facilitating the discussion. It’s clear that the railroads are not going to meaningfully engage with us unless they are forced to.”

An additional challenge: It would require bipartisan support in a “Lame Duck” session of Congress to enact legislation that would halt or immediately end the strike.

– CNN’s Betsy Klein and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

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