A major rail union rejected the labor deal brokered by the Biden administration, renewing the possibility of a nationwide strike.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the Teamsters (BMWED), which represents nearly 12,000 railroad workers, rejected a tentative agreement between railroaders and Class I freight railroads Tuesday, less than a month after the White House negotiated the deal at the last minute. If an agreement is not voted on soon, the union could go on strike, paralyzing the supply chain just in time for the peak holiday season.
“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result,” BMWED president Tony D. Cardwell said in a statement on the union’s website. “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.”
According to the press release, a total of 11,845 union members voted on the agreement. A majority of the members voted against the deal; 6,646 voted against it while 5,100 supported it.
“The membership voted in record numbers on this tentative agreement, exhibiting that they are paying close attention and are engaged in the process,” Cardwell said. “BMWED members are concerned with the direction of their employers and the mismanagement and greed in which they have consistently implemented, and are united in their resolve to improve their working conditions across the entire Class I rail network.”
Rejecting the deal sends the union and the railroads back to the bargaining table. A new negotiating period will extend until five days after Congress reconvenes, which is currently set for November 14. Axios noted that if a deal is not reached, Congress may have to step in. If the parties cannot come to terms on a new agreement, it may prompt a strike that other unions may very well honor, Axios added.
Of the 12 unions representing some 115,000 railroad workers, four have voted to ratify the agreement and the other seven are set to vote in the next few weeks. But a deal is not certain. Jeremy R. Ferguson, President of the Transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), voiced significant discontent, despite several wins for workers, in a statement to members.
“I will not sell members on this tentative agreement,” he wrote. “[T]he vote is now yours. No matter what your collective decision is, I will work to ensure it is heard and is acted upon.” SMART is the largest railroad union, representing some 37,000 members.
In September, railroad companies and labor unions struck the tentative agreement. The deal was negotiated by Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), led by Labor Secretary Martin Walsh. A third of U.S. freight is moved by rail, and a work stoppage could cost the economy up to $2 billion per day, the Association of American Railroads reported.