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Rail workers union rejects labor contract, renewing strike possibility

Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division votes against deal with freight railroads

Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division could go on strike after Nov. 14 if a deal cannot be reached with the freight railroads. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) rejected a labor contract with the freight railroads on Monday, sending the two sides back to the bargaining table and resetting the countdown to a potential work stoppage.

More than 56% of BMWED membership voted against ratification of the tentative national agreement reached with the Class I freight railroads on Sept. 11. The deal included a 24% wage increase, $5,000 bonuses and an additional paid day off.

BMWED represents about 26,000 workers who build and maintain the tracks, bridges, buildings and other structures on railroads across the country, according to its website.

“The result of the vote indicates there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers,” BMWED President Tony D. Cardwell said in a statement. “I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard.”

BMWED will go back to the bargaining table for additional negotiations with the railroads. If a deal cannot be negotiated, BMWED could go on strike after Nov. 14.

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

Two of the largest labor unions — those representing locomotive engineers and train conductors — were the last to reach a tentative agreement with the railroads. Their agreement averted a rail strike that could have begun as early as Sept. 16.

So far, only four of the 12 unions have ratified the national agreement with the railroads: the American Train Dispatchers Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Transportation Communications Union and the the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen.

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  3. Richard M. Rehmer

    So this goes to show everyone that unless you address the membership first, you should not open your mouth and say we have a deal. Biden administration took credit for brokering a deal to avert a strike, but no one asked the membership what they thought; just union leaders spoke. It also goes to show you how out of touch union leadership is with its members. I am sure that the railroad decision to get rid of conductors will go over big with the membership, especially as the railroads have increased the size of trains to offset the cost of running them

    1. Ty Stout

      except it also shows that these people lied about what they were striking for, because when, then they got what they wanted and infinitely more, it was no longer good enough

      1. R.B.

        Are you completely ignorant? Who got what they wanted? I don’t know anyone in the industry that is happy with any of these contracts but for those that don’t vote it’s being counted and a yes. That’s the problem. Going back to your comment of “they got what they wanted” that’s a line of crap… that gave us one personal day which has to be scheduled with 48 hrs notice as if emergent situations always present themselves two days prior. So the 1 personal day gets added to your 1 other personal day to come up to a grand total of 2 days a year. That’s supposed to be good? What a joke.

      2. Capt. John M. Pasko

        Yes. No question. Liars fit into the model as well. So do embellishers and agitators regardless of their loyalties. And often the bigger “the man” the bigger the lie. Look no further than the pinnacles of government, business, or labor. P.T. Barnum allegedly said “a sucker is born every minute.” Sad but true…a condition since the beginning of time. Unfortunately no one REALLY wins…ever. Merely an illusion we convince ourselves of.

  4. Capt. John M. Pasko

    LET’S SEE IF YOU ALL AGREE WITH SOME FUNDAMENTAL FACTS: All people are distinctly different from each other. Physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, level of education, life experiences, etc. Agree? All people cannot naturally be lumped together. They each have individual circumstances, that combined with their inate and learned attributes put them in certain socio-economic categories. Agree? The result is that there will always be a segment that will need more help to exist as a valued member of a functional society than others do, not necessarily through any fault of their own making. Agree? So there IS a place for unions. If there are no unions, the government will (and actually already does) take the place of looking after those who need help. And who is the government if not us. So WE ALL are ultimately responsible. Not to say either union or government is always right or wrong, always good or bad, or needed or not needed. Unless we think we can live without our fellow countrymen who do their part to allow each other of us to live the life we live, we need a unique blend of all segments to continue…union, merit shop, independents, government, corporations, etc. In other words the world as we see it. Not perfect, but nevetheless operational. Good and bad in all. Agree? I thought so!

  5. Stephen Webster

    in ont 🇨🇦 foreign drivers coming as students have wages 20% below a fair wage given housing costs. The same companies that are bringing foreign students are upset when gov passed laws about sick paid days the railways did this to themselves. We need unions to protect workers and their families. No way should a train of over 25 cars with hazmat be run by 2 people.

  6. Hank ONeill

    As a former USPS CDL-A tractor trailer driver and proud union member I’m glad to see the working people who generate the profits for those who sign papers and take so-called “risks” with their checkbooks (that’s absolutely UNTRUE with these behemoths) stand up against the owner/stock holder class and demand their fair share (i.e. the MAJORITY) of the profits generated as a result of their ACTUAL risk taking, labor, loss of health, shorter life fe expectancy etc!
    More and more workers have begun to wake to the idea that it is THEY who control the economy and not the SC*****S who “risk” capital!
    Labor is KING: In a modern civilized society it’s time that the government/taxpayer funded corporate welfare for the ruling class start to be displaced by those who have for decades been asked to endure rugged individualism and become poorer each decade as a result in comparison to and a direct result of the elites who have for too long rigged the economy to screw the poor and transfer the collective potential wealth of poor workers to a finite few.
    Stand strong brothers and sisters. Labor is KING!

  7. Asesino

    You know the government and the union we all could do without. You mesn a 24% wage increase, sn extra day off , $5000 in bonuses and thats not enough?? So its you people why our merchandise is shorted. Thats America for you though. Yes im white born in texas raised in texas and ready for round 2 of south against north. You got to many days off now as it is. Ill cross that picket line Hope you all loose your damn jobs. Every stinking one of you. Lazy ass mfz’s. Union, still the worst thing since the beginning. Bet yall stay u ass out of Texas. Every time yall strike yalls bank accounts should be froze

    1. Hank ONeill

      No. my friend you have fallen victim to propaganda used by the elites for decades to transfer the potential wealth of the poor and middle class workers of the US to a finite few that control capital and use influence peddling in DC to ensure that the rich get richer and the middle class gets poorer each decade. the ability for the middle class to thrive while it has grown over the last four decades has remained constant in comparison to the growth of the finite few.
      it is an absolute falsehood that labor who has been underpaid for decades and is still being underpaid has anything to do with what the price in the stores that you pay is.
      that is pure propaganda started by the chamber of commerce almost 5 decades ago and taken up by both the left and the right the ruling class and the elites making more and more money is why you feel the pinch in your wallet when you go to the store it has nothing to do with how much I make it has how much money the rich take from the economy and literally impound and segregate that money from the economy as they don’t put it back.
      I suppose you also think that the f proven falsehood of trickle down economics is somehow true?. well it’s not my friend the rich get richer and they keep that money for themselves there’s only so many houses and so many cars they can buy and then that money stays segregated away from the general population it does not trickle down to you or me and low tax rates from the government have contributed to this as the rich get richer and don’t pay their workers more at the same rate that their wealth is increasing then the disparity begins to be felt by all those who are not rich.
      real wages had they kept pace with the increase in wealth of the elites since 1970 are thereabouts would have resulted in a minimum wage of about 20 to $24 per hour currently.
      I am a single parent that lives in a large city and I earned 87,000 last year and I was able with just a small apartment a single car and no extravagances no vacations I was just able to save about $2,000 over the entire year in my case is considered a good one almost half the American population cannot afford a $500 emergency they don’t have the money.
      so as the rich take larger and larger profit margins and are taxed at a lower and lower rate are deficit grows prices increase and real wages for workers remain stagnant and while there has been a rise in actual dollars over the last 3 years for pay when compared to the wealth increase of those that pay the workers it is far far in arrears.
      real wages that is the percentage of your pay that you’re spending to live has decreased over the last year but due to inflation actual dollars have increased that as a result of too low taxes weak labor laws and the inability for labor to share in the profits that they generate taking the actual risks against life and limb sweat blood and tears in reality those who write checks do not face death nor sweat when they take a so-called risk.
      and let me educate you a little bit more about taxes in the 1950s when the upper tax rate on corporations was over 90% do you think that America’s corporations would just pay 90% of their profits to the government? of course not! what they would do is they would reinvest those profits into their company so they didn’t have to pay taxes on those profits and guess where a lot of that reinvestment went? it went to higher wages better health plans better fringe benefits perks defined retirement plans remember when you went to work for GM or a steel company in the 50s and early 60s right up into the start of the ’70s and if you stayed with that company 30 or 35 years there was a defined retirement benefit plan that my friend was a result of high taxes the government didn’t want to take 90% of what these corporations made they wanted these corporations to reinvest in their companies and the workers that made the profits for those companies higher taxes led to better living for everyone not just the elites and when those corporate tax rates were lowered to absurdly low levels starting in the beginning of the ’70s the only people that benefited were the elites that had been complaining for years that they weren’t able to make more money from the companies that they ran and own stock in they didn’t take any of the risk they didn’t do any of the work they just wrote a check so what you’re saying is absolutely not true.
      in Sweden did you know there is no minimum wage? yet the average fast food worker at McDonald’s as an example earns about $25 per hour maybe 26 or 27 depending plus they have access to a national health plan for a reasonable small amount each month that allows them to leave and go to other employers should they wish to do so without any impact to their families well-being or health and did you know because there’s no minimum wage why their wages are so high? well I don’t think you do so I’ll tell you their wages are so high because Sweden has a law that requires all employees to be a member of a collective bargaining syndicate otherwise known as a union before they can get a job and these unions negotiate with the owners of the companies in order to establish wages vacations working conditions etc it’s very capitalism-based the companies are run the way they want to be run and the workers are able to use their collection of combined power to negotiate better wages for them what could be more capitalism based? nothing I think your idea and the idea of many in the west idea of capitalism is oh if I write the check people should work for me like slaves and if I give them something they should be grateful for it well no that’s not how that works in a modern civilized world.
      have you been to sweden? I have. a Big Mac might cost a dollar more maybe $2 more than it does in America but I know the person serving that Big Mac to me is able to work that job and pay their bills while she goes to college and furthers herself and contributes back to the economy and guess what the owners of McDonald’s aren’t going out of business because they have to pay 26 bucks an hour for their workers are they? no they are not they’re doing just fine they’re just taking a smaller percentage of the profits instead of being greedy corporate Communists like we have here in America who are worse than any socialist could ever be they insist upon having it all including slave labor with no benefits are outrageously awful and expensive benefits you my friend are living in the dark ages.

      1. Richard

        The price of labor should be set by the market. When a third party arbitrarily sets the price of labor way above it’s market value, it drives jobs out of the economy. As example, the person above cited $26 as a fair wage for a worker at McDonald’s. Guess what that will get you? More self serve kiosks.

        Minimum wage laws hurt the very people they are designed to help by creating incentive for the business owner to automate away jobs.

        1. Hank ONeill

          that’s absolutely not true. the market does set the wage in Sweden it’s currently between 25 and $27 an hour for the average fast food worker. the government doesn’t set that no outside force sets that wage there is no minimum wage in sweden. right now we have so-called free markets that are rigged to provide welfare and advantage to the elite few and disadvantage and low wages bad or no benefits to the masses. in Sweden nobody makes the owner of the McDonald’s pay $26 per hour the only rule is that the government requires an even playing field. why doesn’t even playing field threaten you?. you are a worker most likely most likely you don’t own a chain of McDonald’s why would being on an even playing field with your employer threaten you? the government requires that all workers be a member of a collective bargaining organization otherwise known as a union that is a way to even the power between the two. when it’s just a single person who needs to support her family they’ll accept almost anything which is what you have in America owners of McDonald’s getting rich much faster and earning much more than the owner of a McDonald’s in Sweden but guess what? the owners in Sweden don’t open up self-service kiosks they continue to employ people because they believe in their country and their Patriots and they continue to make a profit even though that profit isn’t as fast and as much as it could be in America where using slave late level wages no in Sweden they’re using a fair market system called capitalism regulated by the government to provide an even playing field not and uneven playing field like we have here in America and America what we have is not socialism it’s much worse it’s a form of corporate communism the disparity between the rich and the poor in America is one of the reasons that we have a lowering life expectancy some of the worst healthcare in all of the modern Nations we’re between 26th and 30th for outcomes in modern Nations did you know that? that’s as a result of your rigged so-called free markets no when there’s a free market that has a level playing Field both can win the argument is devoid of logic and has absolutely no leg to stand upon when compared to markets around the world where the playing field has been leveled to include benefit for all anybody who would cry socialism hasn’t looked at the level of corporate communism that’s created the disparity we have here in the United States.

          1. Richard

            You make a lot of great points. I am an unapologetic capitalist and believe in free markets, but we can agree on one point:
            1) The government should not pick winners and losers or provide any subsidies or loans a to any corporate entities. For instance, the governments loan of $700MM to YRC to prop up a zombie company was an abomination. No company, whether it be a bank or a trucking company should be bailed out by the government. Corporations should pay their taxes and rise or fall on merit alone.

            The other point I would like to make is that the great disparity we see between rich and poor is only possible because of the Federal Reserve and their policies. Not many people realize this but the Federal Reserve is private institution that exists solely to serve their masters in government and high finance. If we are to close the wealth gap, we must end the fed. If we are to bring back liberty, we must defund the FBI.

    2. Richard

      With the DOJ being weaponized to arrest 87-year old women for peacefully protesting and praying outside of an abortion clinic, that north vs. south thing is coming faster that you might think. This government has crossed over the line and has become tyrannical.

      1. Hank ONeill

        now that is something I agree with. the government has found itself in service to behemoth large corporations that end up operating as the de facto leaders of the nation turning our so-called free nation into one led by a form of corporate communism and while they’ll fight tooth and nail both the Democrats and Republicans to protect the rights of a corporation the supreme Court going so far as to call a corporation a person actual real people are protected by our government not workers and certainly not The unborn! our government protects the elite by giving them a form of corporate welfare and demands of the poor rugged individualism the void of help from the government not allowing us to even have unions or labor laws that even the playing field between the employer and the employee just because there’s a law that requires a business to level the playing field doesn’t mean it’s socialism. right now there are laws that require the masses IE workers you and me to not be able to level the playing field a law that doesn’t allow us to organize and doesn’t allow us to be even is a form of socialism it’s worse than socialism it’s a form of communism and it’s being hidden behind this veil of freedom in America by the masses spewing I apologize this is voice to text, by the minority spewing propaganda to the masses which many of you have swallowed look at the comment from the poor ignorant soul of above talking about texas.
        that poor incoherent person talks about how the union has ruined our economy has no argument or no facts with which to back up his facts or his statement he’s just repeating what he’s heard on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh or whoever Rush Limbaugh’s replacement is today no these people have been programmed to be their own worst enemy why would a worker ever want a system that doesn’t allow him to have an even playing field? that’s how bad it is we literally have the slaves policing themselves out of better things for the slaves think about that.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]