The possibility of a crippling, nation-wide strike among U.S. railway workers increased on Monday after unions left the negotiating table with a split decision over a government-backed labor agreement.
Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) joined those from the Transportation Division of the International Associate of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) to conclude voting during the weekend on a collective bargaining agreement.
BLET members accepted the proposal, as did the yardmasters in the SMART-TD union. But train and engine service members at SMART-TD said no, sending the deal back for negotiations, with the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), which represents railroad management.
“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.
President Joe Biden in September celebrated a tentative deal that gave union members an average 24% pay increase that would be spread out over five years, offered improved working conditions and capped what workers have to pay for healthcare. But the deal did not include paid sick leave, which was a major obstacle in the negotiations.
Labor leaders accuse rail owners of excess greed, arguing paid sick leave would only cost pennies on the dollar.
Labor leaders had signaled Nov. 19, as a possible strike date, but that’s since been extended to Dec. 9. While around half of the unions involved in the negotiations have signed off on the labor deal, a strike by any of the 12 freight rail unions would prevent others from crossing the picket line and usher in a nation-wide strike that could have an estimated $2 billion-per-day impact on the U.S. economy.
“This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike,” Ferguson said. “A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.”
Negotiations are close as more than half of the proposals on the table have been ratified. Some of the unions involved, however, are accused of asking for more than outlined in the original proposals and those unions have threatened to strike if their additional demands aren’t met.
Congress would face pressure to intervene before a strike halts freight rail service ahead of the year-end holidays.
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