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Freight rail carriers uncertain about new BMWED concessions

Disagreements and tensions continue as the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employee Division (BMWED) try to negotiate a new labor agreement with U.S. freight railroads. The National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), who is representing the freight railroads, feels like the BMWED’s new requests are pushing them closer to a strike rather than farther from it, as reported by Freightwaves.com.

“Now is not the time to introduce new demands that rekindle the prospect of a railroad strike,” said the NCCC on Oct. 19.

Negotiations began almost three years ago in January 2020. Looking at what’s happened so far in negotiations, the BMWED rejected a tentative agreement on Oct. 10 with 56% of its members voting against it. The deal included an additional paid day off, the opportunity for $5,000 bonuses, and a 24% increase in pay. This agreement also included “significant travel expenses” and “the most generous wage package in almost 50 years of national rail negotiations.”

Aside from this rejected deal, six other railroad unions have reached deals and settled the possibility of a strike.

Most recently the BMWED requested additional benefits. This is a request the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), a group appointed by President Biden to work with both the unions and railroads, has already rejected, according to the NCCC. The BMWED is not satisfied with the healthcare benefits being provided to them, a disagreement that the NCCC is moving them closer to striking.

“Now … BMWED leadership is asking for additional benefits and threatening to strike — this time based on the easily disproved premise that union workers are not allowed to take sick leave,” NCCC said. “The health, safety, and well-being of rail employees is a top priority for all railroads. Rail employees can and do take time off for sickness and have comprehensive paid sickness benefits starting, in the case of BMWED-represented employees, after four days of absence and lasting up to 52 weeks.”

The BMWED maintains that the sick leave is not as it seems to be, claiming that benefits only become available after seven days of not being able to work. The BMWED does not feel as though their well-being is being prioritized.

“The railroads have made billions off of their workers. These are incredibly skilled jobs where sophisticated pieces of equipment are used. The workers do not feel valued,” the BMWED included in a statement.

If a new labor agreement is not reached by both sides by Nov 14, a strike is imminently possible.