The threat of a freight rail strike returns, but not until next month

The threat of a freight rail strike returns, but not until next month
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New York
CNN Business

A union of rail maintenance workers has rejected a tentative deal with the nation’s freight carriers, renewing the threat that a strike could shut down this vital link in the nation’s already-troubled supply chain.

The vote, announced Monday by the Brotherhood of Track Maintenance Employees Division, was 43% in favor of the proposed five-year contract, and 57% against.

Around 12,000 of the 23,000 members of the BMWE participated in the vote. It is the third largest of the major freight rail unions. The two largest freight unions, representing the more than 55,000 engineers and conductors who make up two-person train crews, are holding their own mail-in ratification vote.

the BWME said it will now enter negotiations with the association that represents management at the country’s major freight railroads in an effort to reach a new agreement. Without a new agreement, there could be a strike, but not until at least November 1. 19, according to the union. Things will remain status quo with the union contract until then.

A statement from the association negotiating on behalf of the railway administration said it was “disappointed” with the vote, but since the two sides had decided to keep the status quo, “failed ratification does not present a risk of immediate service interruption.”

But the two largest unions, the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport union, which represents drivers, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive and Train Engineers, which represents engineers, have yet to vote, calling those results into question.

“It’s a mess,” said a union source from one of the ‘big two’ unions.

The engineers’ and drivers’ union votes are causing “apprehension on all sides,” the source said. Online talks between drivers’ union and engineers’ union members indicate they want a strike even before seeing the contract, while some ask for reason, the source said. Drivers union and engineers union members will receive ballots in the mail later this month with a 21-day voting period. The results of those votes should be known in mid-November, just before BMWE could go on strike without a new deal.

Last month’s agreements between the railroads and the unions were reached just hours before the deadline last month after a marathon 20-hour bargaining session.

“It could be a big disappointment” if the members turned down the deal, the source of all time and work said. who entered into reaching agreements.

Even if members of the two largest unions vote in favor of their agreements, they would not show up for work if BMWE went on strike. And the fact that BMWE rejected the contract is probably a sign that rank-and-file anger at rail management could lead to no votes in the two largest unions as well.

“I think this is the canary in the coal mine for the votes of engineers and drivers,” said Todd Vanchon, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “They were the ones you anticipated would turn down a deal. The fact that BMWE voted does not suggest a no vote. [by train crew members] It is more likely.”

Tentative labor agreements were reached on September 1. 15 after a 20-hour marathon trading session that included direct intervention from President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. The new contracts include an immediate 14% raise with wages retroactive to 2020, and total raises of 24% over the five-year contract period from 2020 to 2024. They also give union members cash bonuses. of $1,000 a year. In total, the back pay and bonuses will give union members an average payment of $11,000 per worker once the agreement is ratified.

But deals were elusive not because of financial terms, but because of labor rules that unions said had pushed engineers and drivers to breaking point. Staff shortages had required crew members to be on call seven days a week, ready to report to work at short notice. And union leaders said those rules, which were tightened as part of the contract, had caused widespread anger against management among rank-and-file members.

Despite this discord, the union leadership expressed confidence that its members would ratify the agreements, even if they did not get everything they wanted at the bargaining table.

“I think we got everything we could,” Dennis Pierce, president of the engineers’ union, told CNN the day the deal was struck. “And I think once our membership understands where we sit and what’s in it, I think they will ratify it.”

Numerous smaller unions have already approved their agreements. The only group that initially rejected it, the Machinists’ union which represents some 5,000 locomotive and track crew mechanics and facilities maintenance staff, has since reached a new interim strike-free agreement. The Machinists rank and file are considering that deal again.

the biden administration was desperate to prevent a railway strike for fear that reverse already strained supply chains. Major railroads carry 30% of the country’s freight when measured by weight and distance traveled, and a strike could have caused shortages and higher prices for essential items like food and gasoline, forced factories to close without parts and left store shelves empty during the Christmas shopping period. The only potential good news for the Biden administration is that if there is a strike, it would now take place after the midterm elections.

The anger of rank-and-file union members has not only been expressed on the railways. Union members working in other industries have recently refused to approve agreements, even when recommended by their union leaders. Although most union contracts are upheld, there have been some very high-profile examples of angry union members voting no.

About 10,000 members of the United Auto Workers at farm equipment manufacturer John Deere They went on strike last fall after rejecting a tentative deal. That rejected offer included immediate increases in his base salary of 5% to 6% and additional salary increases later in the contract that could have increased the average salary by about 20% over the six years. And it had a cost-of-living adjustment that would give them an additional payment based on future inflation.

But more than 90% of UAW members at Deere voted no and went on strike, then stayed on strike afterward. refuse further treatment. They finally returned to work after five weeks after a third vote was passed on a similar package.

Workers on strike at the Kellogg cereal factory

what’s more rejected a tentative deal and decided to remain on strike in December before finally agreeing to a deal weeks later.

And only 50.3% of film production workers voted in favor of an agreement last fall that achieved virtually all of his union’s bargaining goals, a contract that averted a strike by 63,000 technicians, craftsmen and craftsmen that could have halted production of movies, television and broadcast shows.

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