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Strike possibility increases with labor agreement rejection

A freight strike has been uncertain since the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED) rejected a tentative labor agreement posed by the freight railroads. This uncertainty has grown as another rail union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), has rejected a labor agreement, as reported by Freightwaves.

Freight railroads have been under pressure from the White House to reach a negotiation satisfactory to both the railways and the rail unions. If a labor agreement isn’t reached, the risk of a strike increases significantly.

The BRS saw historic turnout in member participation when the vote to oppose or accept the tentative agreement was posed. Michael Baldwin, BRS president, said that 73.18% of members participated in the vote.

On Oct. 26 the BRS announced their rejection, citing that 60.57% of members voted against the tentative agreement. They included that while over half of members opposed the agreement, 39.23% voted to accept it.

The BRS is represented by the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition and the United Rail Nations; the freight railroads are represented by the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC). The NCCC shared their disappointment over BRS rejecting the agreement.

Despite the rejection, the BRS and NCCC had agreed to avoid any service disruptions until early December. The BRS and the freight railroads, with their respective representatives, will head back to the negotiating table to sort out a different agreement.

For now, the BRS will have to wait longer to feel any of the benefits included in the tentative agreement. The NCCC feels that the agreement, which features recommendations from the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), does “represent a carefully considered compromise of all parties’ interests.” The PEB was created by President Biden during the summer to create a buffer between the rail unions and freight railroads in their search for a labor contract and their avoidance of a strike.

“BRS asserts that the tentative agreement is inadequate because it does not provide for additional paid sick time. However, the vast majority of BRS members work predictable schedules and all have access to time off,” NCCC said. “Like other rail employees, they can and do take time off for sickness and already have paid sickness benefits beginning after four days of illness-related absence and extending for up to a year.”

Such a statement does not sway the BRS stating that their vote, “spoke loudly and clearly that their contributions are worth more.”

“I have expressed my disappointment throughout the process in the lack of good-faith bargaining on the part of the NCCC, as well as the part PEB 250 played in denying BRS members the basic right of paid time off for illness,” Baldwin said. “The NCCC and PEB also both failed to recognize the safety-sensitive and highly stressful job BRS members perform each day to keep the railroad running and supply chain flowing.”

Baldwin continued to share his opinions about the agreement posed by the NCCC and PEB.

“Without Signalmen, the roadways and railroad crossings would be unsafe for the traveling public, and they shoulder that heavy burden each day,” he said. “Additionally, the highest offices at each Carrier, as well as their stockholders, seem to forget that the rank-and-file of their employees continued to perform their job each day through an unprecedented pandemic, while the executives worked from home to keep their families safe.”

While the BMWED and BRS have made clear their rejection, six other unions have approved labor agreements. Two of the largest train engineer and conductor unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and SMART-Transportation Division, have yet to submit the responses of their votes.