Railways against trade unions: what are the prospects and why the strike threat is not over

The threat of a US freight rail strike still looms. Union members have yet to ratify an attempted agreement reached by their leaders. Some local members have already turned down the terms.

The largest US freight railways and union leaders reached a tentative deal Wednesday after 20 hours of negotiations, temporarily averting a strike that would have closed railways across the country and disrupted the economy.

But the matter is far from over. Members of the International Machinists Association and Aerospace Workers’ District 19 have already rejected the deal, although they agreed to postpone the strike until September 29 to allow more time for negotiations and to allow other unions to vote.


The interim deal

The deal was negotiated by unions representing engineers and conductors, but all 12 rail unions are likely to benefit from concessions made by the railways.

The new contracts provide railroad workers with a 24% wage increase over the five-year period from 2020 to 2024, including an immediate payment averaging $ 11,000 after ratification, the Association of American Railroads said.

Rail workers will also receive $ 5,000 in bonuses in the deal which is retroactive to 2020.

The rail industry has said that the average wages of rail workers will reach $ 110,000 by the end of this five-year deal in 2025.


A worker gets on a locomotive at a BNSF rail yard on Wednesday, September 14, 2022 in Kansas City, Kan. (AP Photo / Charlie Riedel) ((AP Photo / Charlie Riedel) / AP Press Room)

In addressing union concerns, the deal also includes an additional paid vacation day per year. The railways have also agreed to allow workers to take an unpaid break for medical appointments or procedures without being penalized by attendance rules.

Workers will have to pay a larger share of health insurance costs, but their premiums will be capped at 15% of the total cost of the insurance plan. Currently, railroad workers pay $ 228.88 per month for their health insurance, which is about 12.6% of the plan’s total cost.

What happened after the provisional agreement was announced

IAM members voted to reject their agreement. However, the Transportation Communications Union and the Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division jointly announced that the members voted to ratify the agreement. The votes of the other unions that have approved interim agreements are still pending.

These results can occur at any time “because the interim arrangements have been made pending the votes of union members,” Mark Mix, chairman of the National Right to Work Committee, told FOX Business.

Selkirk railroad locomotives, New York

Locomotives are coupled to rail cars at the Selkirk rail yard on Wednesday, September 14, 2022 in Selkirk, NY (AP Photo / Hans Pennink) (AP Photo / Hans Pennink / AP Press Room)

There is a caveat.

Mix said there is nothing in the railway labor law that requires grassroots workers to vote to ratify union contracts, which means union leaders can circumvent those votes.

“They are also notorious for enforcing a contract even after workers voted overwhelmingly to reject it,” he said.

However, “given the political headache it would create for the Biden administration if this deal falls apart now, if union officials allow a vote, grassroots workers will be under tremendous pressure to ratify the deal,” Mix added. .

This means “accepting a contract they wouldn’t otherwise do because it will advance Big Labor’s political goals at this critical juncture just before the Midterms,” ​​he said.

The National Mediation Board did not respond to FOX Business’ request for comment.


What could happen next?

If the units refuse the interim arrangements, the strike / blockade threat returns. However, some things can happen to prevent an economic disruption.

If the attempted agreement is rejected, even by some unions, Congress can intervene before a potential strike to keep the supply chain moving.

There may also be final offer arbitration, otherwise known as “baseball arbitration,” in which an umpire will review the outstanding issues on both sides and select one party’s offer over the other.

“It is known as ‘baseball arbitration’ because each party submits a figure or proposed remedy and the arbitrator is required to select one offer or the other,” according to Welborn Sullivan Meck & Tooley law firm.

The Amtrak passenger train departs from Chicago

The Amtraks California Zephyr passenger train departs Chicago Union Station in Chicago, Illinois on March 2, 2022. (Luke Sharrett / AFP via Getty Images) (LUKE SHARRETT / AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)


If the union goes on strike, then it will be “virtually impossible for other unions to ignore” and they will honor the picket, further hindering already troubled supply chains.

“They’ll also say, ‘we’re doing a sympathy strike,'” Mix said.

Representatives from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 19 did not respond to FOX Business’ request for comment.

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However, Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART’s transportation division, and Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Engineers and Locomotive Workers, released a joint statement after the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal Workers, Air , Railways and Transportation and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has reached an interim agreement.

“For the first time our unions have been able to secure a negotiated language contract by exempting permits for certain medical events from carrier attendance policies,” the statement read. “Our unions will now begin the process of presenting the provisional agreement underpinning it for a ratification vote by members of both trade unions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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