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Rail machinists and mechanics reject tentative labor agreement, but two others ratify theirs

Union reps to return to bargaining table with freight rails, but Friday strike deadline looms

A worker fixes a section of railroad track. (Photo: Shutterstock/klikkipetra)

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) have voted to reject the tentative labor agreement brokered by labor and freight rail representatives, less than two days before a potential strike by members of two of the largest rail unions who are still at the negotiating table.

But two unions agreed to ratify their contracts (see below).

IAM is extending its negotiations with the National Carriers Conference Committee, the group representing the freight railroads, to Sept. 29, “out of respect for other unions in the ratification process.” This extension will enable IAM to continue negotiating with the railroads to reach an agreement that its membership could ratify.

The union also said its members approved a strike authorization vote. The approval is a procedural action required by the Railway Labor Act. Because IAM is still negotiating with the railroads, members would be unable to strike.

IAM was one of the earliest unions to say that it had reached an agreement with rail representatives for a new labor contract. It is among a dozen unions seeking to secure a new contract.

“IAM freight rail members are skilled professionals who have worked in difficult conditions through a pandemic to make sure essential products get to their destinations,” IAM said in a Wednesday release. “We look forward to continuing that vital work with a fair contract that ensures our members and their families are treated with the respect they deserve for keeping America’s goods and resources moving through the pandemic.”

IAM says its membership consists of approximately 4,900 members who work as locomotive machinists, track equipment mechanics and facility maintenance personnel. 

Two unions agree to ratify labor contracts

Although IAM members sent its tentative agreement back to the bargaining table, two unions successfully ratified their contracts. They are the Transportation Communications Union/IAM and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, which together represent more than 11,000 rail workers, according to NCCC.

As rail stakeholders ponder whether members of the two largest unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD), will go on strike just after midnight on Friday, members of other unions have indicated that they would honor the picket line even though they are not permitted to strike themselves.

Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) “are required to honor all picket lines. If you report to work and other crafts have formed a picket line, DO NOT CROSS THE PICKET LINE,” BMWED said in a Tuesday notice to its members. “However, if you are mid-shift (already at work and working) and a strike is called by other union crafts, BMWED members must finish working their shift and leave work thereafter and not return until the strike is over, or there is a cessation of the strike or workers are compelled to return to work by legislation or order.”

A new labor deal for union members has been in the works since January 2020, but negotiations between the unions and the railroads failed to progress. A federal mediation board took up the negotiations but released the parties from those efforts earlier this summer. 

The Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) — a three-person board appointed by President Joe Biden that convened in July and August to come up with ways that the unions and railroads could resolve the impasse — issued recommendations last month. The recommendations were meant to serve as a jumping-off point for a new contract.

NCCC says the ratified agreements of the two unions implement the Aug. 16 recommendations of the PEB, including a 24% wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024 — with a 14.1% wage increase effective immediately — and five annual $1,000 lump sum payments. 

On Sunday, three other unions said they had reached an agreement that they have sent that to their members for ratification. Members of BLET and SMART-TD had yet to reach a tentative agreement as of Wednesday morning.

Per the Railway Labor Act, both sides have until midnight Friday to come to a consensus; after that, the “cooling-off” period ends and union members could strike.

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One Comment

  1. Juan

    fire them sll and get rid of all this childish behavior by the unions including Teachers etc. bad example to our working society and this is where everyone else is getting those terrible behaviors and become extreme dangerous.

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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.