Unions for railroad engineers, conductors, go separate ways in contract negotiations

National strike could begin in December

Unions for railroad engineers, conductors, go separate ways in contract negotiations

At the close of voting on the proposed five-year collective bargaining agreements with the nation’s Class I railroads, the workers’ unions are divided.

The Brotherhood Of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) members and SMART-TD yardmaster members voted to accept the contract that addresses rates of pay, health & welfare, and other fringe benefits for locomotive engineers and other rail workers represented by the union who are employed by the nation’s Class I railroads.

The votes were record numbers, with 53.5% of the locomotive engineers and other rail workers represented by BLET and 62.48% of SMART-TD represented yardmasters voting to ratify.

“With over two-thirds of eligible BLET members returning a ballot, a true majority of the membership has spoken and I want to thank them all for participating,” said BLET President Dennis Pierce. “Rank and file member ratification of contracts is one of the core democratic principles of our Union.”

However, 50.87% of train and engine service members represented by SMART-TD voted to reject the tentative agreement, CNN reported.

“SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson. “This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.”

Under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, the labor law for workers employed by railroads and airlines, contracts don’t generally expire, they become amendable. After the unions filed their Section 6 notices with the NCCC in November 2019, talks began in January 2020.

A status quo agreement between SMART TD and management is in effect until Dec. 8. Beginning on Dec. 9, SMART-TD would be allowed to go on strike or the rail carriers would be permitted to lock out workers — unless Congress intervenes.

“The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table,” said Ferguson. “But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”

In a separate letter to SMART-TD members, Ferguson noted that the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) has already indicated that they do not intend to engage in further bargaining over these issues.

“This has been their behavior to the other unions that have failed to ratify during this round of bargaining. Nonetheless, SMART-TD’s negotiating team will return to the table and invite the NCCC to reopen good-faith negotiations during this period,” he said.

Previously, Starbucks employees at more than 100 stores in the United States went on strike on Red Cup Day, Nov. 17.

On Nov. 14, about 48,000 academic workers at University of California campuses walked off the job to ask for better pay and benefits in the largest strike of the year.

Earlier this month, the American Airline pilots’ union’s board of directors rejected a tentative agreement for a new contract, according to a report from CNBC. The Allied Pilots Association’s board voted 15-5 against the tentative deal. The proposal called for 12% raises for pilots on the date of contract signing, plus 5% after one year, and 2% after two years, according to a copy of the agreement in principal.

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