(The Center Square) — A union’s vote against ratification of a tentative national agreement between workers and the nation’s Class I freight railroads could lead to a rail strike.
Four labor organizations have ratified a deal brokered by President Joe Biden’s administration, which averted a strike last month. While the deal included pay, travel reimbursement and away-from-home expense increases, workers have raised concerns about their working conditions.
This week, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, the country’s third-largest rail union, announced its members voted against ratification of the deal. About 56.1% voted against it, while about 43% voted in favor of the deal.
“Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard,” President Tony D. Cardwell said in announcing the vote. “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.”
Another seven unions have not yet ratified the deal.
Some unions — including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Trainmen and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers — are set to wrap voting after next month’s midterm election. Combined, the unions represent about half of the nation’s rail workers.
In a statement, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee said the BMWED vote “does not present risk of an immediate service disruption” as both sides “have agreed to maintain the status quo as they discuss next steps.”
Rail industry officials previously said a strike could idle more than 7,000 trains daily, potentially leading to product shortages. The Association of American Railroads previously said a strike could cost more than $2 billion daily.
On Wednesday, the AAR referred questions about the potential rail strike to the NCCC statement.
Tim Kraft, an associate professor of operations and supply chain management at North Carolina State University, told The Center Square the potential rail strike shows workers have leverage and realize how critical they are to the supply chain.
Therefore, they want better contracts, Kraft said, adding that their position is not just about increased pay.
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor