A handful of workers are gathering outside railyards across the country at sit-ins organized by a newly formed labor group separate from 12 unions that negotiated deals last week with major US shipping lines. Demonstrators have expressed their displeasure with the deals, just as unions are trying to explain the potential benefits they negotiated to their 115,000 members before the contract was voted on.
Concerns about the dire economic consequences of a rail strike that could paralyze all kinds of businesses that depend on rail to deliver raw materials and finished goods, prompted the Biden administration to jump into the middle of contract talks last week and urged both sides to reach an agreement. an agreement. Contract talks included Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern and a number of other railroads, so the entire country would be affected by the strike.
Nearly a dozen BNSF workers gathered near Minot, North Dakota, on Wednesday with homemade signs proclaiming “We demand more!!” And we won’t back down. Another group of a half-dozen workers stood outside their worksite in Olathe, Kansas, with signs that read “Railroad greed leads to inflation” and “Greed railroads are hurting the nations supply chain.”
Workers’ concerns about furloughs and demands for railroad attendance policies took center stage in the negotiations. In the end, unions representing engineers and conductors got a promise of three extra unpaid days for workers to attend doctors’ appointments without being penalized and an improved schedule of days off to go with 24% increments and $5,000 in special bonuses. The board of directors appointed by President Joe Biden this summer recommended five-year deals.
It remains to be seen if these concessions are enough to get workers to vote for these deals. A chapter of the International Federation of Machinists and the Aerospace Workers Union rejected last week’s deal that did not include the extra days off, so they are back on the table now working on a new agreement. Two small guilds agreed to their deals, but the other nine guilds would prepare their votes at different times over the next two months.
The two biggest unions that have held out for the longest — the Locomotive and Train Brothers Syndicate representing the engineers, and the transport division of the International Sheet Metal Workers, Air, Rail and Transport which represents the conductors — are not expected to do so. Report their voting results until mid-November. Members of those unions are still waiting to see all the details of the deals Biden announced last Thursday because lawyers are still finalizing everything before full agreements are released.
This puts out any possibility of a strike after the midterms, mitigating the potential political impact of the talks on Biden and Democrats. If any of the unions reject their contracts, Congress may still have to step in.
Recently retired engineer Marilee Taylor, who left the Chicago Railroad after more than 30 years earlier this year when BNSF imposed the industry’s strictest attendance policy, said she doesn’t think the interim agreements do enough to address schedule and workload concerns. Yet major railways have wiped out nearly a third of their workforce over the past six years. Unions say strict rail policies make it difficult to take time off without penalty.
The safety of ourselves, our co-workers, and the people we serve – who we run their communities through – are at risk…. lose this Circumstances are many, many workers who cannot maintain 90% of every moment they breathe on duty or at the behest of the railways.”
Hugh Sawyer, a southern engineer in Norfolk, said it’s hard to know how many workers will eventually vote for these deals because they may decide those deals are the best they can get, although he said he doesn’t hear many people are happy with them. Even if they remain frustrated, workers may not want to strike and risk Congress stepping in and imposing a contract on them that may be worse than what unions agreed to.
“We are sick and tired of the way we are treated there,” said Sawyer, a 34-year-old railroad veteran who works as a treasurer for the United Railroad Workers Group, which includes workers from all unions. “There’s a lot of anger out there.”
One example of the schedule of challenges for rail workers is that Sawyer just had outpatient surgery earlier this week on one of his days off, but has no idea when he’ll be able to schedule an appointment to remove the stitches from His head next week because he will be on call then and he doesn’t know when he will be working.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said.