The threat of a nationwide rail strike has been pushed back from November 19 to early December after the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way – Employees Division (BMWED) agreed to extend their cooling off period to align with the three other rail unions that have yet to ratify their tentative agreements.
“This is the railroads’ last chance to do the right thing by voluntarily agreeing to provide paid sick leave to all employees. If the railroads fail to give up one penny of every dollar of profit for paid sick leave for their highly valued employees by December 8th, and there is either a strike or lockout or both, then the railroads will be responsible for the imposition of a shutdown of their operations and the economic harms to its customers, the country’s economic supply chain, and the entire U.S. economy,” BMWED said in a statement.
In response, the National Carriers Conference Committee, the group representing the freight railroads at the negotiating table, said the railroads “will remain engaged with BMWED throughout the extended cooling off period and will continue to seek an agreement based on the framework recommended by Presidential Emergency Board 250.” But so far, the railroads have stubbornly rejected all proposals for paid sick time and other points of contention.
So far, seven of the twelve unions have ratified their agreements, two have rejected the deal, and three have yet to vote. The two largest unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation union (SMART-TD) are expected to complete their votes by November 21. If the deal is rejected by either union, they are prepared to strike starting at midnight on December 9, the end of their cooling off period.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) continues to negotiate with the railways after their members rejected the deal last month. BRS’ cooling off period lasts until December 4, but there is a clause that could extend the cooling off period to December 9 should one of their operating crafts fail to ratify an agreement.
A strike action by any one of the unions would lead to a nationwide shutdown of the major freight railroads, as all the other unions, even those with ratified contracts, would honor the picket lines.
BMWED said without an extension the railroads could have cut services within the next few days ahead of the November 19 strike threat, as they did in the days leading up to the averted September 16 strike. These actions “would be a premature exercise of self-help by the railroads and a violation of their common carrier obligations to provide services to their customers.” “With this extension, there is absolutely no reason for the railroads to discontinue services or threaten to discontinue their services. There is now more than adequate time for the railroads to come to the bargaining table, engage in good-faith negotiations with us and reach a voluntary Agreement to provide all railroad workers with paid sick leave.”
The union also warned that cutting service ahead of the potential strike could prompt Congress to rush through legislation that would force the railworkers to work into the new year without a fair contract and would serve as a “manipulative attempt to instigate Congress to intervene against the interests of railroad workers.” The union urged, “Congress should not intervene and rescue the railroads if they continue to refuse to provide railroad workers with paid sick leave. But, if Congress does intervene, then we demand that Congress must side with the workers by imposing the tentative national agreement and carrier-specific agreements along with paid sick leave for all railroad workers.”
BMWED also said delaying the potential strike would “provide an opportunity to increasingly educate members of Congress – who have been out of session and consumed by the mid-term elections – about the railroad workers’ state of despair that management has created, and the railroad workers’ need for paid sick time off.”
OCEANAIR will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available.