USA TODAY International Edition

Union rejects deal, risks rail shutdown

Specter of paralyzing strike or lockout looms before holidays

- Joey Garrison

WASHINGTON – A union representi­ng rail conductors narrowly voted to reject a collective bargaining agreement orchestrat­ed by the Biden administra­tion, moving one step closer to a crippling freight rail strike that appeared averted two months ago.

SMART Transporta­tion Division, representi­ng about 28,000 conductors, rejected the deal early Monday, while a separate union representi­ng rail engineers – the Brotherhoo­d of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen – voted to ratify the five- year agreement.

The split among the two largest rail unions comes after three smaller unions already rejected the agreement with rail companies that was brokered by the White House in September. Eight freight rail unions have now approved the agreement, but all 12 must sign on for ratification.

A rail strike or lockout could paralyze the economy by halting the shipment of many foods, particular­ly grain, and critical goods before next month’s holiday season.

“It’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART- TD, adding that he believes issues can be resolved without a strike. “The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do.”

A status quo contract is in place until Dec. 8. SMART- TD can go on strike, or rail companies can lock out workers, beginning Dec. 9 if an agreement is not reached. Congress has the power to intervene to set a contract if parties don’t reach a deal.

In addition to straining supply chains, a shutdown could disrupt passenger rail including Amtrak, which operates mostly on tracks owned by freight railroads.

“Let’s be clear, if the remaining unions do not accept an agreement, Congress should be prepared to act and avoid a disastrous $ 2 billion a day hit to our economy, said Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Associatio­n of American Railroads, which represents the nation’s largest freight companies. They include Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, BNSF, Canadian National and Kansas City Southern.

Jefferies said rail carriers “stand ready” to reach agreements with unions but warned “the window continues to narrow as deadlines rapidly approaches.”

A White House official reiterated the president’s position that a rail shutdown is “unacceptab­le because of the harm it would inflict on jobs, families, farms, businesses and communitie­s across the country.”

“The best option is still for the parties to resolve this themselves,” the official said.

President Joe Biden has not intervened in the dispute since September when his administra­tion helped reach a tentative agreement to resolve a threeyear stalemate between the rail unions and companies.

The proposed contract includes a 24% pay increase over five years, $ 5,000 bonuses, voluntary assigned days off, one additional paid day off, guaranteed time away and medical visits and no disruption­s to current health care plans. But despite winning the endorsemen­ts of the unions’ leaders, their members must vote to approve the deal for it to become final.

The rail conductors’ vote Monday was razor close, with 51% of union members voting to reject the deal. The Brotherhoo­d of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which has about 57,000 members, voted 53.5%- 46.5% to approve the agreement.

 ?? DANNY KARNIK/ AP ?? Two major rail unions that represent conductors and engineers split on ratifying a new contract Monday, raising the possibilit­y of a strike or lockout next month before the holidays.
DANNY KARNIK/ AP Two major rail unions that represent conductors and engineers split on ratifying a new contract Monday, raising the possibilit­y of a strike or lockout next month before the holidays.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States