A last-minute Biden White House brokered tentative agreement halted a nationwide railroad worker strike back in late September, and it looks like the federal government is making plans to step in again between the two parties—soon.
Last month, members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE)—the union representing track maintenance workers and the third largest union of railroad workers—rejected the tentative labor agreement (TA) with the freight railroad companies: BNSF, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, CSX and Norfolk Southern. Most recently, in late October, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) passed on the deal.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has stated that Congress may need to take part in ending any potential strike. But union reps are not happy with that possibility.
“Congress should not intervene and rescue the railroads if they continue to refuse to provide railroad workers with paid sick leave,” the BMWE declared in a statement. “But, if Congress does intervene, then we demand that Congress must side with the workers by imposing the tentative national agreement and carrier-specific agreements along with paid sick leave for all railroad workers.”
Some Railroad Workers United (RWU) members took part in a recent panel discussion co-hosted by The Real News and Haymarket Books. During the panel discussion, which is available on YouTube, union members talked about why they are rejecting the tentative agreement. “I’m a CSX roadway mechanic and also a local chairman of Lodge 696 Richmond, Virginia,” Reece Murtagh told the panel. “So, we were the first group to vote down the TA. I’m very proud of that. Our guys shot it down. Our guys are highly skilled. We’re certified welders who work on modern diesel engines, computer-controlled electrical systems, hydraulics, pneumatic systems. Many of our members have CDL driver’s licenses. Simply put, the TA was not good enough for us. The next TA, right now what we’re voting on, still isn’t good enough. So let me back up to September 13th. We rejected the TA. We also voted to strike. This vote was supported by 89% of the members. Very important to note this vote occurred inside the 30-day cooling off after the PEB was issued. What does that mean? This means that our members had every legal right to strike under the Railway Labor Act on September 16th.”
“The railroads continue to reject all BMWED and BRS proposals for paid sick leave,” BMWE said. “There are reports indicating the railroads intend to begin ceasing various rail operations within the next few days, in anticipation of a strike on November 20, even though in September they did not start taking such action until five days before the date of potential exercise of self-help. These service shutdowns would be a premature exercise of self-help by the railroads and a violation of their common carrier obligations to provide services to their customers. These shutdowns would also represent a blatant attempt to cause panic and economic harm to the railroads’ customers and the U.S. economy right before the Thanksgiving holiday. They would also be a manipulative attempt to instigate Congress to intervene against the interests of railroad workers. The railroad workers are not the problem here and are not to blame for the current situation. The American public and the railroads’ customers deserve better. They cannot be held hostage to protect the immense wealth of the railroads’ greedy executives and shareholders.”