Rail strike November 2022: rail union rejects agreement; Strike could affect US economy ahead of holiday

OMAHA, Neb.– A third rail union has rejected its agreement with the country’s rail haulers, increasing the likelihood that Congress will be asked to settle the dispute and block a strike.

The small union International Brotherhood of Boilermakers voted against the deal on Monday, even though it includes the biggest pay rises workers have seen in more than four decades. The union represents just a few hundred of the approximately 115,000 rail workers involved in contract disputes with Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, BNSF, Kansas City Southern, CSX and other railroads.

All 12 rail unions must agree to their agreements to avoid a strike, although no strike is imminent because all unions have agreed to continue negotiations until a deadline early next month, even if their members vote no.

Seven other unions have ratified the five-year contracts, which include a 24% pay rise and $5,000 in bonuses. The focus is now on the three unions that have rejected their agreements and the remaining two that have not yet completed their vote.

Workers’ quality of life concerns over demanding schedules and the lack of paid sick leave in the industry have meant the agreements are being quashed, despite the sizeable pay rises the railroads are offering.

Contract negotiations with the two unions, which rejected their agreements last month, remain deadlocked over the issue of paid sick leave. So it’s becoming increasingly likely that Congress will have to step in to resolve this dispute

“If we can’t improve the arrangement by getting some sort of sick leave, I think Congress needs to step in because I think the railroads are just too stubborn to give us what we want when we’re not in.” able to strike,” Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, said on Monday.

The railroads have said they want those contracts to follow closely recommendations from a special arbitration panel appointed by President Joe Biden this summer. Offering sick leave on top of the pay rises and bonuses already agreed would require railroads to spend more.

Congress is expected to block a railroad strike and impose contract terms on both sides if they cannot agree before the deadline next month. That’s because there is so much at stake for the economy, with so many companies relying on railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished products.

When not at the negotiating table, the railroads and unions will be lobbying Congress over the next few weeks about what should be included if lawmakers decide to impose contract terms on railcars.

If the two largest unions, representing conductors and engineers, also reject their agreements when the results of their vote are published next Monday, that would put additional pressure on the railways. But Cardwell said he didn’t think even that would be enough to get the railroads to move in case of sickness.

The railroads declined to comment Monday on the status of talks with unions BMWED and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, but insisted they would not offer paid sick leave. They believe unions have agreed to forego paid sick days over the years in favor of higher wages and strong short-term disability benefits.

One reason unions object to the railroads’ refusal to provide sick days is that federal contractors are required by executive order to provide them to their employees. The railroads insisted they were federal contractors last year when they required employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but now they say the sick-time requirement doesn’t apply to them.

Hundreds of business groups have written letters to Biden and members of Congress, urging them to be ready to intervene in the treaty dispute if necessary. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said he was in daily contact with the railroads and unions, urging them to work out an agreement.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc7.com/rail-strike-november-2022-railroad-unions-brotherhood-of-boilermakers-freight-trains/12455671/ Rail strike November 2022: rail union rejects agreement; Strike could affect US economy ahead of holiday

Laura Coffey

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