Railroad employee strike avoided after deal made

UNITED STATES – Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) unions reached a tentative agreement in the early morning hours of Thursday, Sept. 15, according to a press release from BLET. BLET is a division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The press release states the unions reached a “tentative National Agreement with the nation’s largest freight rail carriers which includes wage increases, bonuses, and no increases to insurance copays and deductibles.”

The release continues, “For the first time, our Unions were able to obtain negotiated contract language exempting time off for certain medical events from carrier attendance policies. Our Unions will now begin the process of submitting the tentative agreement to the rank and file for a ratification vote by the memberships of both unions.”

According to the release, the tentative agreement stipulates an immediate wage increase of 14% and a compound increase of 24% over the 5-year term of the agreement. Additionally, employees would see “annual lump-sum bonus payments totaling $5,000.”

“The solidarity shown by our members, essential workers to this economy who keep America’s freight trains moving, made the difference in our Unions obtaining agreement provisions that exceeded the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board,” the release reads. “We listened when our members told us that a final agreement would require improvements to their quality of life as well as economic gains. As a result, this agreement includes agreement provisions that will create voluntary assigned days off for members working in thru freight service, and all members will receive one additional paid day off. Most importantly, for the first time ever, the agreement provides our members with the ability to take time away from work to attend to routine and preventive medical care, as well as exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgical procedures.”

This agreement would provide the highest general wage increase since the beginning of the agreement 45 years ago. Also, SMART-TD protected railroad employees from potentially dangerous changes to the railway service, such as reducing train crews to a single employee onboard. 

“SMART-TD was successful in blocking the carriers’ attempts to fast track arbitration on crew-consist agreements, protecting two-person crews for the indefinite future,” the release reads.

The BLET was thankful for the cooperation of the Biden Administration for making it possible to reach this agreement.

“This agreement would not have been reached without the hard work of President Biden, Labor Secretary Walsh, Deputy Secretary Julie Su and others in the administration. Congressional leaders, including Senators Schumer, Durbin and Sanders, along with Speaker Pelosi listened to your requests and stayed out of our dispute, allowing for an agreement to be reached across the bargaining table, rather than through legislation.”

The agreement, which was three years in the making, will not finalize until the members of the respective unions conduct a ratification vote for its approval. 

The agreement also derailed a potential railroad shutdown that could have severely disrupted the supply chain across the United States and abroad. Some employees voiced their intention to strike in the event an agreement was not made. 

As stated in Trevor Hunnicutt’s article, “U.S. railroad strike averted by late-night deal,” “A rail shutdown could have frozen almost 30% of U.S. cargo shipments by weight, stoked inflation, cost the U.S. economy as much as $2 billion per day and unleashed a cascade of transport woes affecting the U.S. energy, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and retail sectors.”

Hunnicutt continues, “The impact would have stretched beyond U.S. borders because trains link the United States to Canada and Mexico and provide vital connections to massive ships that ferry goods from around the globe.”

Hunnicutt also noted Biden had called the deal “a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years.”


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