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NCCC and BMWED offer up differing points of view in railroad labor negotiations

In mid-September, it appeared that the possibility of a national freight railroad strike occurring had been nullified, following United States freight railroad carriers and railroad labor unions coming to terms on a tentative deal on September 15.

As previously reported, leading up to this development, there had been a high level of uncertainty and anxiety among supply chain stakeholders through multiple modes of freight transportation, with a 12:01 A.M. September 16 deadline marking the end of a 30-day “cooling off” period between the 12 United States-based railroad labor unions and six largest freight railroad carriers (even though the majority of the 12 unions had reached tentative labor agreements prior to the tentative deal being struck).

Those agreements followed the announcement of the appointment of the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) by President Biden focused on resolving this ongoing labor dispute. The August 16 release of the PEB’s recommendations, which 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 a portion of the lump sum payments are retroactive and will be paid out promptly upon ratification of the agreements by the unions’ membership, according to the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), an organization representing the nation’s freight railroads in national collective bargaining.

Since then, six railroad labor unions have ratified the tentative agreements, based on the recommendations made by the PRB.

But a major railroad union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED), was not among the unions following suite, voting against ratification of the tentative national agreement.

Looking at the BMWED voting results, the union said that the American Arbitration Association counted and verified the election results, with a total of 11,845 BMWED members submitted ballots, with 6,646 against ratification and 5,100 approving the tentative agreement. It added that 99 remaining ballots were submitted blank or voided for some other user error.

“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result,” BMWED President Tony D. Cardwell said in a statement issued on October 10. “I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued. They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness. The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

Cardwell added that BMWED members are “concerned with the direction of their employers and the mismanagement and greed in which they have consistently implemented,” with BMWED members sharply focused in improving working conditions across the entire Class I network.

As for next steps, BMWED said its rejecting the tentative agreement brings what it called a “status quo” period, in which it will reengage bargaining with the Class I freight rail carriers, with that period extending to five days after Congress reconvenes on November 14, adding that should Congress return to session on November 14 there could be no “self-help” until after November 19.

And on October 18, BMWED called on its membership to make the case to Congress, providing a template to write to Senate and House leaders for improvements to the tentative labor agreement, saying it lacks paid time off for railroad workers dealing with sickness. 

“We were able to secure one additional paid personal day in the tentative national agreement; this is the first increase in paid time off that we have secured since 1981,” said BMWED. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, we were considered ‘exempt’ workers and told to report to work as usual to avoid a catastrophic supply chain emergency. We all did this to support our country and provide our valuable services despite the risk of infection. Many of us did contract Covid and several died. We are asking for your support in our contract struggle. We were told during the pandemic that we were classified as “federal contractors” for purposes of the vaccine mandate. In turn, we are asking for the 56 hours of paid sick time off as prescribed currently to federal contractors.”

As for the freight railroad carriers’ perspective, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), an organization representing the nation’s freight railroads in national collective bargaining, took the BMWED to task earlier this week, explaining that it was disappointed that BMWED declined to ratify the tentative agreement.

NCCC said that the unions that have approved the tentative agreement have agreed to maintain the status quo as next steps are discussed, adding that the failed BMWED ratification does not present risk of an immediate service disruption. It added that as of October 19, six railroad labor unions have ratified the agreement, with six having reached a tentative agreement, pending ratification, and one (BMWED) not ratified, with status quo maintained.

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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