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Union rejects rail agreement, threat of national strike increases

One of America’s largest railroad unions fired Monday proposed salary deal With major industry players raising the specter of a strike that could cripple rail transportation just ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Railroad engineers accepted a deal with the railroads that would provide a 24% raise, but the group representing the conductors, known as the Smart Transportation Division, voted against the deal.

“While SMART-TD members have spoken with their votes, it is now back to the bargaining table for our operational craft members,” Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-TD, said in a statement. “All of this can be settled through negotiation and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interest of the workers, the railroads, the ships, and the American people.”

Even the threat of a work stoppage could entangle the country’s supply chain as railroads freeze shipments of chemicals and other goods that could pose a threat if interrupted midway through their destination.

The divided vote comes after three other unions on Monday rejected their deals with the railroads that the Biden administration helped broker ahead of the original strike deadline in September. Seven smaller unions have approved a five-year deal, which includes a $5,000 bonus in addition to a 24% raise.

But many union members have voted to reject the contracts because, they say, they fail to address demanding schedules and quality-of-life issues for employees. All 12 must ratify contracts to prevent a strike that could cripple supply chains and cripple a strained US economy still emerging from the pandemic.

Potential for “massive disruption”

The Retail Industry Leaders Association said a rail strike would “cause massive disruption to the flow of goods across the country” although retail stores are well-stocked for the crucial holiday shopping season.

“Fortunately, this year’s holiday gifts have already arrived on store shelves. But disruptions to rail transportation present a significant challenge for timely delivery of items such as perishable food products and e-commerce shipments, And it will undoubtedly exacerbate the inflationary pressures already hitting the US economy,” said Jess Dankert, with the group representing more than 200 major retailers.


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The unions that had rejected their deals agreed to return to the bargaining table to try to hammer out a new agreement before a new strike deadline early next month. But those talks have hit an impasse because the railroads refuse to consider adding sick time to what’s already offered.

There seems a strong possibility that Congress will have to step in to resolve the dispute. If the two parties cannot reach an agreement, MPs have the power to enforce the terms of the contract. Hundreds of business groups have urged Congress and President Joe Biden to stand ready to intervene if needed.

quality of life concerns

The demanding schedule and deep job cuts in the industry have prompted workers to reject these contracts because they do not address workers’ key quality-of-life concerns. The deals made for engineers and conductors included a promise to try to improve the scheduling of regular days and each railroad promised to further negotiate the details of those schedules. Unions representing engineers and conductors also received three unpaid days a year to meet medical needs, as long as they were scheduled at least 30 days in advance.

The railroad also lost its bid to cut crew sizes to one person as part of the negotiations. But conductors in the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport Workers union still rejected the deal, with nearly 51% voting against it. A small division of the SMART-TD union, representing about 1,300 yardmasters, approved the deal.

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

The railroads say deals with unions must closely follow recommendations made by a special panel of arbitrators appointed by Biden this summer. This is why they don’t want to offer paid sick time. In addition, the railroad says unions have agreed for years to forgo paid sick time in favor of higher wages and stronger short-term disability benefits.

Unions say it’s long overdue for railroads to pay workers sick time, and the pandemic highlighted its need.

The group negotiating on behalf of the railroads said Monday that unions that rejected their deals should not expect to get more than the president’s emergency board of arbitrators recommends. The threat of a strike could begin to affect business even before the deadline, the National Carriers Conference Committee said, as railroads begin reducing shipments of hazardous chemicals and perishable cargo ahead of the deadline.

“A national rail strike would severely affect the economy and the public. Now, the continued, near-term threat of one will require that freight railroads and passenger carriers act quickly to secure the network any time soon.” Let’s start taking responsible steps.” Railway said.

$2 billion hit

It’s unclear what Congress might do given the deep political divisions in Washington DC and a lone lawmaker moving a resolution. But Ian Jefferies, head of the Association of American Railroads trade group, said, “If the remaining unions don’t accept a deal, Congress needs to be prepared to act to avoid a catastrophic loss of $2 billion a day on our economy.” should.”

Republicans may try to impose a deal that includes only what the president’s emergency board recommended, while Democrats, who still control both the House and Senate during this lame-duck period, may try to make additional concessions to the railroads. May be willing to force.

The unions voting Monday represent more than half of the roughly 115,000 railroad workers involved in a contract dispute with Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, BNSF, Kansas City Southern, CSX and other railroads.

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