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Most recent batch of railroad labor votes see mixed results

The results are in for the votes for the long-awaited United States-based train and equipment (T&E) railroad employees, which are part of ongoing negotiations between 12 U.S.-based railroad labor unions and the four U.S. Class I freight railroads, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), an organization representing the nation’s freight railroads in national collective bargaining, stated earlier today.

NCC said that BLET, a railroad labor union representing engineers and trainmen, has ratified its collective bargaining agreement with U.S. freight railroads, concluding bargaining for more than 20,000 rail employees.

And it added that voting results for SMART-TD were split up, with its first contract, covering roughly 28,000 employees—comprised of conductor, brakemen, engine service, and yardmen groups (with around two-thirds of membership participating)—not ratifying its contract, coming up less than 1% short. NCCC said that the second agreement, which covers around 1,300 yardmasters, was ratified.

NCCC said that, as of press time, nine of 13 agreements, which collectively represent around half of freight railroad employees in the bargaining round have been successfully ratified and are now in effect.

As previously reported, these agreements are based on  recommendations made by Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) appointed by President Biden, which were released on August 16, include a 24% wage increase over the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, coupled with a 14.1% wage increase that is effective immediately, as well as five annual $1,000 lump sum payments, with NCCC noting that a portion of the lump sum payments are retroactive and will be paid out promptly upon ratification of the agreements by the unions’ membership.

NCCC said that there are now four unions that have not ratified the PEB’s ratifications, SMART-TD (one of its contracts, BMWED, BRS, and IBB—with each now subject to an agreed-upon cooling off period until early next month. It explained that while leadership at these unions at first endorsed the terms of the agreements, that at least three of these unions are now demanding terms that go beyond the scope of the PEB’s recommendations, with the caveat that should their demands not be met, they are prepared to go on strike.

“A national rail strike would severely impact the economy and the public,” said NCCC. “Now, the continued, near-term threat of one will require that freight railroads and passenger carriers soon begin to take responsible steps to safely secure the network in advance of any deadline. The railroads remain willing to enter agreements that are based on the PEB-recommended framework. Should the unions without ratified agreements remain unwilling to do so, they are expected to strike and Congress may need to intervene—just as it has in the past – to prevent disruption of the national rail system.”

A September report issued by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) made the case for what is at stake should deals not be struck with the remaining unions that have yet to reach new labor deals.

The AAR’s report puts a firm onus on the need for all 12 rail labor unions to reach deals by the September 16 deadline, explaining that a nationwide rail service interruption “would dramatically impact economic output and could cost more than $2 billion per day of a shutdown.”

What’s more, it added that should deals not be reached by the deadline, Congress will need to step in and act to prevent a service interruption that will harm and impact every rail-served economic sector. Examples of this highlighted in the report include: idling more than 7,000 trains per day; triggering retail product shortages and widespread manufacturing shutdowns; job losses; and disruptions to hundreds of thousands of passenger rail customers.

“This offers the largest wage increase in 50 years, maintains first-in-class healthcare, and it offers major opportunities on the local negotiations, for things like work-life balance and more predictable schedules,” Jefferies noted at the RailTrends conference in New York last week. “It is a massive win for our employees, when you look at the agreement itself, that we are pursuing I am hopeful that the remaining employees get it done to get the compensation they deserve.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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