Last Updated on October 12, 2022
A major railroad workers union rejected a contract proposal broker by President Biden, citing crucial staff shortages and the inability to get time off even in the case of emergencies. Failure to come to an agreement has heightened fears of an industry-wide strike among railroad workers, a development that could bring the nation’s supply chain to a halt.
“Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard,” said Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) in a statement Monday. Members voted 6,646–5,100 against ratification of the tentative national agreement reached with the Class I freight railroads, the Epoch Times reported.
“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 statement continued. “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.”
BMWED is the third largest railroad union in the country. In the latest vote, nearly 12,000 workers submitted ballots.
The two largest freight unions — which together represent 55,000 engineers and conductors — are currently conducting their election through mail-in voting.
Even if members from the other unions vote in favor of the deal, they are likely not to report to work considering the rejection from BMWED, CNN reported. In addition, the BMWED could have massive ramifications on the other union votes.
The ongoing negotiations have heightened fears of an industry-wide strike among railroad workers, which would cripple U.S. supply chains and passenger rail systems as the holiday season approaches. Both sides have agreed to renegotiate, and work is scheduled to continue as normal until at least November 19.
The deal — which was brokered by the Biden Administration — contained a 24 percent raise, annual bonuses, and health care benefits. “And this is a great deal for both sides, in my view,” Biden said after the package was proposed.
“To the American people: this agreement can avert the significant damage that any shutdown would have brought. Our nation’s rail system is the backbone of our supply chain,” Biden said. “Everything from clean water, to food, to gas, to everyday—I mean, liquified natural gas, to everything—every good that you need seems to be on a rail, getting delivered to where it needs to go.”
An agreement was tentatively reached on September 15 following 20 hours of negotiations, which involved U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and President Biden. Workers were set to gain an annual pay raise of close to $11,000 if the deal was formally ratified, along with a $1,000 cash bonus.
Critical staffing shortages and worker grievances are preventing the deal from being completed, however. Employees are often required to work seven days a week and are expected to report to work on short notice.