November 30, 2022

Why nation is once again close to a devasting freight railroad strike

6 min read

New York
CNN Business

In September, President Joe Biden, the most union-friendly president in recent history, met in person Involved in negotiations. That reached one. Temporary labor deal which averted a strike on the country’s major freight railroads. It was a bargain ” hailed as a victory. For tens of thousands of rail workers.

But many of these activists did not see it that way.

And as a result, rank-and-file members of four of the 12 unions have voted no on ratification votes, which could start the clock ticking toward a potentially catastrophic industry strike that begins at 12:01 a.m. on December 9. May start at .

While the rejected contracts would have given workers their biggest wage increase in 50 years – an immediate 14% increase with back pay and a 24% increase over five years, plus a $1,000 cash bonus each year. Wages and economics were never major issues in these negotiations.

There were scheduling rules that kept many workers on call seven days a week, even when they weren’t working, a lack of sick pay for workers in other industries, and understaffing.

Provisional agreements did improve some of these problems, but they did not. Come close to what the union was looking for. Anger among the rank-and-file about staffing levels and schedules that could fine them and pay them for taking sick days had been building for a year. Working through the pandemic only brought the issues more front and center. And also the report of record profits for many railroads last year and possibly again this year induced many workers to vote no.

“I think some of that vote wasn’t necessarily a referendum vote against the contract as much as it was against their employers,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the transportation division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation Union. The largest rail union representing 28,000 conductors. Its members Voted against the tentative agreement. In the results of the votes announced on Monday.

“Members don’t necessarily vote on money issues,” he said told CNN on Tuesday. “It’s the quality of life, and how they’re treated. When big corporations cut so deep and they expect everyone else to catch up, it becomes unsustainable. Your With no family time, you don’t have time for proper rest.

The agreement was widely opposed even among some unions whose members ratified the agreement.

Only 54% of members of the second largest rail union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), voted in favor of the deal. Union members across the industry who opposed the proposed contract knew that Congress could vote to order them to stay on the job or return to work under the terms of a contract. Worse than those they rejected.

There are many reasons why the nation is now on the brink of a strike, some going back nearly a century to the passage of the Railway Labor Act.

It was passed in 1926. It was one of the first labor laws in the country and imposed restrictions on strikes by rail workers that did not exist for union members in most other businesses.

While the law could allow Congress to ultimately stop a strike or order union members to return to work after a strike has begun, unions argue that restricting the right to strike would benefit unions from workers. need to reach agreements that are acceptable to the majority of their members.

“Congress staying out of this would clearly benefit the unions,” said Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). Other businesses know that if a union goes on strike, they face costs that railroads don’t, he said. will have to pay.

The strike will be a disgraceful blow to the nation. A still-struggling supply chainAs 30% of the country’s freight, measured by weight and distance, is moved by rail. It is impossible to run a 21st century economy without this 19th century technology.

The US economy that many believe is at risk. Tipping into a recessionA prolonged rail strike will cause serious damage. Lack of everything From petrol to food to cars, prices of all these products can go up. Factories may be forced to close temporarily due to a shortage of parts.

That’s why many expect Congress to step in and strike a deal on members of the four unions whose proposed deals have not yet been reached.

“I don’t think it’s anybody’s goal to get Congress involved, but Congress has historically been willing to step in if necessary,” he said. Ian JeffriesCEO of the Association of American Railroads, the industry’s trade group.

Will a divided lame-duck Congress find bipartisan agreement to stop or end the strike, and act quickly? “This is not a political issue. This is an economic issue,” he said.

of the Jeffries, the “best outcome” is for the railroads and unions that have rejected the deal to agree to new deals that can be ratified by the rank-and-file. One rail union, the machinists, initially rejected the deal, only to ratify a slightly revised deal, though only 52% of members voted in favour.

“If an endorsement fails the first time, there are absolutely opportunities to sit down and come to additional agreements and cut it out and get it done. [tentative agreement] Endorsed,” Jeffries said.

But the unions say the railroads are unwilling to negotiate on issues like sick time because they are counting on Congress to give them a deal, even if the railroads make record profits (or near record profits). ) is being reported, suggesting that companies have the resources to give unions what they are asking for.

“They’re telegraphing they expect Congress to bail them out,” said Pierce, president of the engineers union. He and other union leaders There is concern that Congress will act, although Democrats, who still control both chambers in the current Lem-duck session, were reluctant to vote to end the strike in September as the strike’s deadline loomed. .

“It’s hard to say what Congress will do,” Pierce said.

He added that some union supporters who are not returning to Congress next year may not even attend the lame duck session. And railroads and business groups’ hopes for swift action by Congress could be derailed by other items on Congress’ busy agenda.

Still, Pearce and other union leaders worry that even some pro-Congress union members may vote to stop or end the strike rather than blame the disruptions the strike has caused.

“I don’t understand that they have the stomach for a strike to hurt the economy,” he said.

The unions plan to lobby Congress to try to block any legislation that would have ordered them to continue working or return to work immediately after a strike begins. But they expect to be beaten by lobbyists for railroad and other business interests.

“I expect them to have a lobbyist for every member of Congress,” Pierce said.

There will be another strike. Biden in a tough spotAs a pro-union president, he will be caught between angry union allies who want to allow a strike to go ahead or risk economic ruin due to a strike.

While Biden does not currently have authority in the process. Unilaterally order railway workers to stay at work.As he did in July, he would need to sign any congressional action to take effect.

White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre on Tuesday reiterated earlier White House comments that “a shutdown is unacceptable because of the loss of jobs, loss of families.” But she would not answer questions about whether Biden is ready to agree to congressional action that activists say is unacceptable.

“We are asking the parties involved to come together in good faith and resolve this,” he said, adding that “the president is directly involved in the negotiations again”.

If Congress acts, the Railroad Labor Act is doing what it was designed to do, the railroads say.

AAR’s Jeffries said, “The purpose of the Railway Labor Act was to reduce the likelihood of work stoppages. “And it has been remarkably effective in doing so. The last work stoppage we had was 30 years ago, and it lasted 24 hours before an overwhelming bipartisan Congress. [action to end the strike]. I think all parties agree that a work stoppage or a network shutdown is not helpful to anyone involved.

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