TThe likelihood of a rail strike has increased after a major union rejected a collective agreement between workers and rail companies aimed at ending months of deadlocked negotiations over wages and working conditions.
The SMART Transportation Division, which represents the country’s rail operators, announced Monday that its members declined to ratify the agreement. Workers from a dozen unions involved in the railroad negotiations have until December 9 to approve the agreement or the United States could face economically devastating railroad strikes.
The vote among union members was exceptionally close, with SMART-TD voting against by just 50.9%.
“Honestly, this vote is about the frustration that the railways helped create [their attendance policies] and the resulting degradation in the quality of life for our conductors,” said Jared Cassity, SMART Transportation’s national legislative director and a conductor. “It’s about attendance rules, sick leave, tiredness and the lack of time for family. Many of these things that cannot be seen but are felt by our members. It destroys their livelihood.”
TARGET RINGS ALARM BELLS OVER WEAK HOLIDAY PERIOD HINDERED BY INFLATION
Meanwhile, BLET, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, announced on Monday that its members had given the green light to the agreement, although the union said it would join SMART-TD in strikes if they ended up unable should be, its members before a 31 9 deadline. BLET members voted 53.5% in favor of the agreement.
“We have stood shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters at SMART-TD and others in the railroad work throughout this process and will continue to stand in solidarity with them as we near the finish line in this round of negotiations,” said BLET President Dennis Pierce.
SMART-TD and BLET together represent 57,000 workers.
Even before Monday’s news, the likelihood of a strike had increased. The interim agreement in question, which would include the biggest pay rises in four decades, has already been rejected by three of the dozen unions involved (and approved by seven).
The agreement must be approved by all unions involved in order for the agreement to go through, which means that workers from all unions have to vote in favor of the agreement.
While the deadline is December 9, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen could strike even earlier, just after midnight on December 5, they said Washington Post.
While the negotiation and voting process has been going on for months, the breakaway Railroad Workers United has emerged and encouraged workers across the various unions to vote against the agreement in hopes of even more action to improve working conditions, they say Politically.
Railway workers complain about staff shortages, especially since around 45,000 employees have been laid off in the past six years alone.
In July, the White House authorized the formation of an emergency committee to defuse disputes between railroad companies and the unions representing railroad workers after contract negotiations stalled.
After the emergency committee, a tentative agreement was reached with the unions in September. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh helped negotiate.
The proposed arrangement would offer workers an immediate 14% pay rise and back payments for the last two years. The workers would also receive $1,000 in bonuses each year. The salary increases would add up to 24% through the five-year contract.
Still, a strike could be averted by Congress even if no agreement is reached by early December. Railway strikes differ from other strikes because labor relations are governed by the Railway Labor Act 1926 rather than the National Labor Relations Act.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
This means that if there is an airline or rail strike, Congress can intervene and enforce the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations or extend the deliberation period even further, thereby delaying the deadline for work stoppages or strikes.
However, congressional intervention would be bad optics for the Democrats and the Biden administration, given their pledge to support organized labor.