Rail Union Rejects Tentative Deal Brokered by White House, Possible Strike Looms
WASHINGTON — A union representing about 12,000 railroad workers voted down a tentative contract on Monday, setting the stage for a possible nationwide strike ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Four unions have ratified contracts based on the agreement brokered by the White House last month, while seven have votes pending on the deal.
Together the eleven unions represent about 115,000 rail workers.
But the thumbs-down vote by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the Teamsters, or BMWED, is at best a disappointment and at worst, could result in a major disruption of the nation’s supply chain and rail transportation just as the U.S. enters the peak of the holiday season.
In a written statement, BMWED President Tony D. Cardwell said the majority of his membership had rejected the tentative national agreement and the union understands the result.
“I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well,” Caldwell said. “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,” he continued.
“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,” Caldwell said.
The American Arbitration Association counted and verified the BMWED election results.
In total, 11,845 BMWED members submitted ballots, with 6,646 voting against ratification and 5,100 approving the tentative agreement. Ninety-nine remaining ballots were submitted blank or voided for some other user error.
“The membership voted in record numbers on this tentative agreement, exhibiting that they are paying close attention and are engaged in the process,” Cardwell said.
“BMWED members are concerned with the direction of their employers and the mismanagement and greed [with] which they have consistently implemented [policy], and are united in their resolve to improve their working conditions across the entire Class I rail network.”
The National Carriers’ Conference Committee, or NCCC, the group representing the freight railroad companies, said in a statement that there is no risk of immediate operational impacts due to this vote. But the NCCC expressed “disappointment” in the decision to reject the contract.
The NCCC, which represents the nation’s freight railroads in national collective bargaining, issued a statement following the vote that said, “We are disappointed that members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have declined to ratify the recent tentative agreement between the BMWED and the nation’s freight railroads.”
The statement went on to note the parties have agreed to maintain the status quo as they discuss next steps. “As such, the failed ratification does not present risk of an immediate service disruption,” the NCCC said.
The tentative contract implemented the recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board No. 250, including a 24% compounded wage increase and $5,000 in lump sum payments, the committee said.
The agreement also included “significant increases” to the national rules relating to reimbursements for travel and away from home expenses for the roughly 50% of BMWED members employed in traveling roles.
Following the conclusion of negotiations on the national rules on Sept. 10, several carriers also thereafter engaged in local discussions during the 21-day ratification period that just concluded regarding carrier-specific implementation of the new national travel and expense rules in the tentative agreement.
The BMWED’s rejection of the tentative agreement started the “status quo” period during which the union will reengage in bargaining with the Class1 freight carriers.
That status quo period will extend to five days after Congress reconvenes, which is currently set for Nov. 14. Assuming Congress returns to session on the 14th there could be no work stoppage until after the 19th.
The tentative agreement came after 20 consecutive hours of negotiations led by U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh at his office in Washington last month, and was celebrated by President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden the very morning the deal was announced.
Despite the outcome of the BMWED vote, the nation’s two largest rail unions — the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division, which make up roughly half of all rail workers — are set to finish voting in the middle of next month.
According to the Association of American Railroads, which lobbies on behalf of railway companies, a nationwide rail strike could lead to roughly $2 billion a day in lost economic output.