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A rail strike or lockout will now not take place until at least December 4 after the country’s third largest rail union agreed to an extended “cooling off period” for negotiations to continue.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division-International Brotherhood of Teamsters said Wednesday the new deadline allows the union to coordinate its efforts with the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, who turned down their employment contract with the haulage contractors late last month.
The extension also allows the two largest unions to complete their ratification process. SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen are expected to announce the results of their vote on November 21st.
If SMART-TD and BLET also reject their agreement, BMWED said it will extend its status quo period to December 9 to align schedules.
BMWED’s initial reflection period was due to end as early as November 19, with the deadline set for five days after Congress returned to session. The group voted against their agreement on October 10, asking the railroads for paid sick days. BMWED said in its statement on Wednesday that the railways continue to reject any proposals for further contract extensions by either union.
The extension of the deadline also delays the prospect of congressional intervention if an agreement is not reached. Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Roger Wicker introduced a measure in September that would force the union to accept an agreement without inclusion of negotiated benefits related to absenteeism expenses.
“There is no other bill in Congress [sic] at this time so that we can strike,” the BMWED said in its statement. “We will now have an opportunity to enlighten Congress and get a better law for railroad workers and not for the railroads.”
The union noted in its statement that it hoped to avoid potential service disruptions and said reports indicated the railroads were planning to suspend service in the coming days. When a strike or lockout was looming in September, railroads began limiting service days before the deadline to ensure the safety of critical cargo.
The BMWED said any railroad closures were a “manipulative attempt to get Congress to intervene against the interests of railroad workers.”
“The railway workers are not the problem here and are not to blame for the current situation.”
Norfolk Southern told Supply Chain Dive that it has no plans to shut down service in the coming days. Union Pacific said it is not planning any service adjustments due to the extension of the cooling off period, but added that the railroad “stands ready to take action to minimize safety threats and potential loss and damage to customer cargo if there is a renewed threat of rail strikes.”
The National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the country’s rail freight companies in national collective bargaining, said in a statement on Wednesday that the deadline extension “removes the risk of short-term disruption to rail freight services”.