One of the US’s largest railroad labour unions have voted against a tentative workforce agreement, opening the door to strike action next month.
Train and engine service members for The Transport Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) voted to reject a five-year collective bargaining agreement with the nation’s Class 1 railroads.
Voting concluded midnight Sunday 20 November for members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) as well as the SMART-TD on the proposed agreements.
SMART-TD train and engine service members have voted to reject the proposed contract, while SMART-TD yardmaster members voted to accept.
BLET and SMART-TD are the two largest rail unions, accounting for half of the unionised workforce on the nation’s largest freight railroads.
The five-year agreement ratified by BLET members and SMART TD yardmaster members addresses rates of pay, health & welfare, and other fringe benefits for approximately 24,000 locomotive engineers and other rail workers represented by the union who are employed by the nation’s Class I railroads.
A record number of eligible BLET members participated in the ratification vote with 53.5 per cent voting in favour and 46.5 per cent voting against.
Turnout among the more than 28,000 eligible SMART-TD members was a record high.
Some 50.87 per cent of train and engine service members represented by SMART-TD voted to reject the agreement, while 62.48 per cent of SMART-TD-represented yardmasters voted to ratify.
Representatives from SMART-TD will now head back to the bargaining table with the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), which represents railroad management, to negotiate new terms for the affected train and engine service members.
“BLET is a membership-driven union. In September, our National Wage Committee and our General Chairmen who represent freight rail workers unanimously agreed that the time had come for the membership to have a say on their contract,” said BLET President Dennis Pierce.
“Since then, we have worked to ensure that all of our members fully understand the wins and losses in the Presidential Emergency Board recommendations and how those recommendations were improved upon leading to the tentative agreement sent out for their consideration.”
In October the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) membership voted against ratification of the tentative national agreement reached with the Class I freight railroads, sending the two sides back to the bargaining table and resetting the countdown to crippling staff walkouts.
“SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson.
“This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.”
A status quo agreement between SMART TD and management is in effect until 8 December.
Beginning on 9 December, SMART-TD would be allowed to go on strike or the rail carriers would be permitted to lock out workers — unless national Congress intervenes.
“The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table,” said Ferguson.
“But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”
If there is a strike by SMART-TD or any of the other three rail unions that have rejected proposed contracts with the carriers, BLET and the other eight rail unions that have ratified agreements have pledged to honour the picket lines.
Ferguson said there was a “distinct possibility” that US Congress may pass legislation to resolve the dispute and/or impose an agreement prior to the expiration of the current cooling-off period.