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Renewed possibility of nationwide railway strike after union rejects deal

In a statement released today, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division union announced that its members rejected the tentative national agreement reached with the Class I freight railroads renewing the possibility of a nationwide railway strike that would bring rail freight to a halt.

The vote tallied 11,845 BMWED members ballots, 6,646 against ratification (or 56%) and 5,100 approving the tentative agreement with 99 remaining ballots were submitted blank or voided for some other user error.

“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result,” President Tony D. Cardwell said. “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. Railroaders do not feel valued. They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness. The result of this vote indicates that 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.”

The rejection of the tentative agreement results in a “status quo” period where the BMWED will reengage bargaining with the Class I freight carriers. That status quo period will extend to 5 days after Congress reconvenes, which is currently set for Nov. 14. Assuming Congress returns to session on the 14th there could be no “self help” until after the 19th.

Last month BNSF, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, CSX and Norfolk Southern unions approved the “tentative agreement” with American Train Dispatchers Association members voting to accept the deal earlier this month. The agreement secured a 24% raise, a $5,000 bonus for workers, and a cap on health insurance expenses.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers initially rejected its deal but has since renegotiated a new contract.

All 12 unions that represent a total of 125,000 workers (60,000 railroad workers and 45,000 engineers and conductors) must vote to approve the deal. Two biggest unions that represent engineers and conductors — the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers unions — won’t vote on their tentative agreements until mid-November. 

“A shutdown of the nation’s rail service would have enormous national consequences,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil L. Bradley said in the letter last month.

On July 15, 2022, President Joe Biden stepped in and delayed a railway workers’ strike, since it impacts essential services nationwide. The action named an emergency board of arbitrators which provided negotiators a 60-day window to find a solution no later than September 15, 2022. By August 16, the White House-appointed Presidential Emergency Board recommended a new deal that would keep wages below inflation, remove a cap on individual health care contributions and uphold the unilateral control by management of attendance policies.

Many companies rely on railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished products, and transport refuse.

Five months ago, solid waste facilities in Snohomish County were forced to close for two days to remove excess refuse that built up due to a lack of intermodal containers to transport garbage to landfills. In mid-September the Snohomish County Solid Waste Division announced that it was preparing for possible temporary facility closures that month due to ongoing regional railway transportation issues.

A railway strike would mean a complete closure of Solid Waste transfer stations and drop boxes because no refuse could be moved to landfills.  This would impact the weekly curbside pick-up of garbage, recycle and green waste for households and businesses.

The unions will have until November 19th to reach a deal or the nation’s 125,000 rail workers will walk off the job crippling the lifeline of the nation.  

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