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3 railroad unions reach tentative agreements toward ending contract standoff

Proposed deal would affect nearly 11% of all unionized employees

A man examines a rail car. (Photo: Shutterstock/Manop Boonpeng)

Three railroad unions have reached tentative agreements with U.S. freight railroads on a new labor contract.

The three unions are the Transportation Communications Union (TCU)/IAM (International Association of Machinists), Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. 

Those unions, whose memberships total more than 15,000 rail employees, or nearly 11% of workers at the bargaining table, will send out the tentative agreement to members for ratification. It calls for a 24% wage increase during the five-year period from 2020-24.

The unions said Monday the tentative agreement enables employees to receive the highest general wage increases ever achieved through national bargaining. The agreement also includes health care benefits and other provisions the unions support, including leave and vacation policies.

These provisions are based on guidance provided by the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), a three-person independent panel appointed by President Joe Biden in July that was charged with helping the unions and railroads reach a labor deal after failing for over two years to secure one.

“This agreement ensures that every single penny of the recommendations contained in PEB …. go directly into our member’s pockets,” said TCU President Arthur Maratea in a news release. “TCU/IAM members will receive thousands of dollars in back pay as well as thousands of dollars from increased wages through this agreement. There is no question [that] getting to a PEB and receiving these recommendations would never have been possible without all of rail labor coming together.

“The unions stood together, determined to fight the carriers’ proposals to slash health care benefits, attack our work rules and eliminate two-man crews. We were successful in that fight.”

Maratea urged members to vote in favor of the agreement.

“It’s been three years since our national freight members’ last raise. If there was any chance of reaching a better agreement, we would still be bargaining,” he said. “Failing to reach agreement would mean our members in national handling would not get to vote on its terms — and we would have to rely on Congress to impose whatever terms it decided, which will take months to reach. I strongly believe our members should be the ones to vote and decide their future.”

Nine other unions have yet to reach an agreement, while the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division and SMART mechanical unions are bargaining as a coalition. 

Overall, the unions represent approximately 140,000 workers employed by the U.S. operations of Class I railroads.

The National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), the group representing the freight railroads, praised the three unions’ decision and urged continued discussion with the other unions that have yet to strike a tentative deal. 

“The NCCC would like to thank these unions’ leadership teams for their professionalism and efforts during the bargaining process,” NCCC said in a news release. “It is critical for all stakeholders — including customers, employees and the public — that all parties promptly resolve the negotiations and prevent service disruptions. Accordingly, we look forward to additional discussions with the unions that have not yet reached tentative agreements and will continue seeking voluntary agreements based on the PEB’s recommendations.”

The cooling-off period, in which both sides are prevented from taking any actions, such as a work stoppage or strike per the Railway Labor Act, remains in effect until Sept. 16.

A new labor deal has been in the works since January 2020, but the negotiations had failed to progress. A federal mediation board took up the negotiations but released the parties from those efforts earlier this summer. The PEB became involved in the process and conducted hearings over the past month. 

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One Comment

  1. William

    That’s great. The crafts that entered agreements though, will be used against and to demonize and harass the ones that won’t into a premature and insufficient and continued inhumane work conditions . They have almost exclusively regular shifts they can plan life and rest around. Some of the crafts that have not agreed, especially train crews, work irregular shifts and this trumped up agreement based on PEB doesn’t touch those work conditions suffered by crafts that not only would not get a cost of living increase, but due to increased time and on call availability requirements caused by forced and new attendance policies, this is a drastic pay CUT unless raises are in the neighborhood of 40% or more immediately. 25% or about 40 more hours per week on call time was added WITHOUT any pay increase or input from the workers. They were simply shown the door if they didn’t like it. And that’s what’s still happening with carriers’ refusal to negotiate STILL. This PEB recommendation is not adequate, even though carriers put lipstick on it. A slap in the face is the most basic description that can be used.

    If carriers think employees will continue to endure this life, and the abuse, even in the most regular predictable highest paying terminals, they’re highly mistaken. We will see a strike. The question is whether congress will address these issues, or force a mass resignation which will lead to a shut down even if a strike doesn’t last but 15 minutes. You can’t beg workers back that have quit. Even now, the ones that left due to attendance policies are being called asked to reconsider and take their job back. What carriers need to realize: they’ve burned thousands of hard working employees that will put up with more than most humans will. And they wanted to push it further than even “inhumane”. The carriers have not only burned their workforce but have burned anyone that considered the job at all. This is where we are. There is a lot of ground to cover to heal that rift. And carriers have shown consistently they dont think any of that is their job except to count profits.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.