A second railroad union rejected the labor deal negotiated by the Biden administration, increasing the chances of a nationwide rail strike.
The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) voted overwhelmingly to reject the labor deal in a vote, the union said in a statement Wednesday. The union represents more than 6,000 railroad workers, and is the second major rail union to reject the deal, after the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the Teamsters rejected the deal earlier this month. Two unions rejecting the deal increases the likelihood that the unions could strike right before the peak holiday season.
“For the first time that I can remember, the BRS members voted not to ratify a National Agreement, and with the highest participation rate in BRS history,” union president Michael Baldwin said in a statement on the union’s website.
“I have expressed my disappointment throughout the process in the lack of good-faith bargaining on the part of the [National Carriers’ Conference Committee], as well as the part [the Presidential Emergency Board] played in denying BRS members the basic right of paid time off for illness. The NCCC and PEB also both failed to recognize the safety-sensitive and highly stressful job BRS members perform each day to keep the railroad running and supply chain flowing,” Baldwin continued. “Without Signalmen, the roadways and railroad crossings would be unsafe for the traveling public, and they shoulder that heavy burden each day. Additionally, the highest offices at each Carrier, as well as their stockholders, seem to forget that the rank-and-file of their employees continued to perform their job each day through an unprecedented pandemic, while the executives worked from home to keep their families safe.”
Ballots were mailed to all 6,339 members of the union. Of the 4,639 ballots returned by members, an overwhelming majority, 60.57%, voted against ratifying the agreement; just 39.23% of members voted to approve the deal.
The deal included a cap and freeze on worker’s health care plans with no negative changes, a compounded 24% pay raise, and an agreement to start another round of negotiations for responsibility pay that the BRS had been trying to negotiate since 2011. Without an agreement, the union goes back into a “status quo” period where it will re-engage with the railroad carriers, the statement said.
The BRS was the second labor union to reject the deal, which was negotiated by a Presidential Emergency Board led by Labor Secretary Martin Walsh. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the Teamsters (BMWED), which represents nearly 12,000 railroad workers, rejected the tentative agreement between railroaders and Class I freight railroads on October 11.
The negotiating period between the freight carriers and the unions will extend until five days after Congress reconvenes, which is currently set for November 14.
Axios noted at the time 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, six have voted to ratify the agreement; the remaining four unions are set to vote over the next few weeks.