The threat of a freight railway strike has been pushed back to early December, with four major unions agreeing to coordinate when they could possibly go on strike.
The third-largest railroad union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employee Division, was ready to strike as early as Nov. 20, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. But the group announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to extend negotiations with the railways until at least December 4, the deadline set by another union, the Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen. Rank and file members of both unions have rejected tentative agreements reached with the railways in September, mainly because of the lack of sick pay in the contracts.
A strike by any railroad union would lead to the closure of major US freight railroads, as all other unions, even those that ratified the contracts, would respect the picket lines. This could cause serious economic problems, as 30% of US freight is transported by rail, measured by weight and distance travelled.
The two largest rail unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, which represents conductors, are holding their own ratification votes, the results of which are expected on November 21. . If either or both of these unions reject the agreements, they would be ready to strike on December 9. If those contracts are rejected, the BMWED and the flagmen have agreed to push their strike deadline further to that date.
The BMWED and Signalmen are engaged in negotiations with railroad management seeking agreements that union leaders believe their members would ratify. Unions hope the extension will prevent Congress from forcing a contract or ordering them to keep working until the new year, when Republicans could control one or both houses of Congress.
The unions want to retain their ability to strike in order to increase their influence with the railways. Congress is due back from recess next week.
Delaying the date of a strike threat “will provide an opportunity to increasingly educate members of Congress – who have been out of session and consumed by the midterm elections – about the state of desperation of the railroad workers that management has created, and on the railroad workers need paid sick leave,” BMWED said in a statement.
The unions fear that the threat of a strike on November 20 will prompt the railways to reduce their services as early as next week. That’s exactly what the railroads did in the days leading up to a marathon bargaining session to avert a planned September 16 strike. Unions also feared the cut in service would prompt Congress, under pressure from freight rail customers, to rush through legislation to keep them on the job.
“With this extension, there is absolutely no reason for the railways to interrupt their services or threaten to interrupt their services,” the statement from BMWED reads. “There is now more than enough time for the railways to come to the negotiating table, engage in good faith negotiations with us and reach a voluntary agreement to provide all railway workers with paid sick leave. .
But so far, railway management has rejected outright proposals from railway unions for paid sick leave.
The National Carriers Conference Committee, which negotiates with unions on behalf of major freight railways, said it “will remain engaged with BMWED throughout the extended cooling off period”. But added that he will seek an agreement based on the framework of agreements already ratified by the other unions.
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