The third-largest rail union scrapped its freighter deal on Monday – renewing the possibility of a strike that could cripple the economy – but before that happens, both sides will return to the bargaining table.
About 56 percent of the voting track maintenance workers represented by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union opposed the five-year contract, which included 24 percent raises and a $5,000 bonus. Union President Tony Cardwell said the railways were not doing enough to address workers’ concerns about a lack of paid leave — particularly for sick leave — and demanding working conditions after major railways cut nearly a third of their jobs. the last six years.
“Railway workers are demoralized and upset with working conditions and compensation and don’t appreciate their employer. The railroads don’t feel appreciated,” Cardwell said in a statement. “They resent the administration’s disregard for their quality of life, as evidenced by their stubborn unwillingness to provide a greater amount of paid leave, especially for sick leave.”
Cardwell noted that members “voted in record numbers,” showing they are following the negotiations closely.
The railroads did not immediately comment on the rejected contract.
Four other railroad unions approved their agreements with freight railroads including BNSF, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, CSX and Norfolk Southern, but all 12 unions representing a total of 115,000 workers must ratify their contracts to prevent a strike. . Another union, the International Union of Mechanical and Aerospace Workers, initially rejected its agreement, but has since renegotiated a new contract. Voting won’t close until mid-November.
President Joe Biden put pressure on railroads and unions reach an agreement last month before a mid-September deadline to allow a strike or strike. Many businesses also urged Congress to be ready to step in and block a strike if no deal is reached because so many companies rely on the railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished products.
In general, the deals the unions agreed to closely follow recommendations made this summer by a panel of arbitrators appointed by President Biden. That President’s Emergency Council proposed what would be the biggest raises seen by railroad workers in more than four decades, but it did not address union concerns about working conditions. Instead, he said unions would have to seek additional negotiations or arbitration with each individual railroad — a process that could take years.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way union said it agreed to delay any strike until five days after Congress meets in mid-November to allow time for additional negotiations.
Quality of life issues came into focus at the end of these negotiations. Unions representing conductors and engineers held out to the end to get three days of unpaid leave a year to attend medical appointments, along with a promise that the railroads would further bargain to give these employees regularly scheduled days off where they do not is ready. Engineers and conductors have complained that the railroad’s strict attendance policies make it difficult to get any permits.
Track maintenance workers at BMWED generally have more regular schedules than engineers and conductors, but all rail unions have objected to the industry’s lack of paid sick time – particularly after working to keep trains running throughout the during the pandemic.