Major rail union rejects deal and renews strike opportunity

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The third-largest railroad union on Monday rejected its deal with the rail haulers — and renewed the possibility of a strike that could cripple the economy — but before that could happen, both sides will return to the negotiating table.

About 56% of track maintenance workers, represented by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, voted against the five-year deal, even though it included a 24% raise and $5,000 in bonuses. Union President Tony Cardwell said the railroads had not done enough to address workers’ concerns about a lack of paid time off – particularly sick leave – and demanding working conditions after major railroads cut almost a third of their jobs in the past six years.

“Railway workers are discouraged and annoyed with working conditions and pay, and disdain their employer. Railroad workers don’t feel valued,” Cardwell said in a statement. “They resent management’s disregard for their quality of life, as evidenced by their stubborn reluctance to grant a higher amount of paid time off, particularly because of illness.”

The railway initially did not comment on the rejected contract.

Four other rail unions have approved their agreements with rail haulers, including BNSF, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, CSX and Norfolk Southern, but all 12 unions representing 115,000 workers must ratify their agreements to prevent a strike. Another union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, initially rejected their deal but has since negotiated a new deal. Voting will not be completed until mid-November.

President Joe Biden pressured the railroads and unions to reach an agreement last month ahead of a mid-September deadline to allow a strike or strike. Many companies also urged Congress to be ready to intervene and block a strike if an agreement is not reached, since so many companies depend on railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished products.

In general, the unions agreed to closely follow recommendations made by a special panel of arbitrators appointed by Biden this summer. This Presidential Emergency Board recommended the biggest pay rises rail workers have seen in more than four decades, but did not resolve union concerns about working conditions. Instead, the unions should engage in additional negotiations or arbitrations, which can take years with each railroad individually.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way union said it has agreed to postpone each strike until five days after Congress is reconvened in mid-November to allow time for additional negotiations. Major rail union rejects deal and renews strike opportunity

Dais Johnston

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