Locomotive engineers narrowly agree to the ratification of the collective agreement

Members of the 19th District of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) narrowly voted to ratify a labor agreement that was nearly three years in the making.

52 percent voted to accept the deal, the IAM reported on Saturday. About 59% of IAM members voted. The total number of members is about 4,900 employees who work as locomotive drivers, road mechanics and foremen for the railways.

The union, which spoke to FreightWaves this week about the contract negotiation process, said it was “confident that this is the best deal for our members” while recognizing the contract had no general appeal.

“Our union recognizes that the deal was not overwhelmingly accepted, so our team will continue to work with our members at our rail yards across the country,” the union said in a statement on Saturday. “This agreement is the first step in addressing some of the issues in our industry.”

IAM also said the leadership “has been working day and night to communicate the benefits of the deal and what would happen if it were declined.”

“Our fight has managed to bring to light the issues of work-life balance and the lack of adequately paid sick leave. Our union will continue to amplify the shortcomings of airline sick leave and attendance policies,” IAM said.

The National Conference of Carriers Committee (NCCC), the group representing rail freight, expressed satisfaction with the results of the IAM vote.

“The IAM agreement, like agreements with six other railroad unions that have already been ratified, implements Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) Recommendations No. 250, including the largest pay package in nearly five decades, and maintains platinum health care at rail employees and adds an additional day of paid time off for workers represented by IAM,” said NCCC.

“The successful outcome announced today follows a first unsuccessful attempt at ratification by the IAM last month. The ratified agreement is in line with the framework recommended by the PEB,” the NCCC continued, noting that this latest agreement followed one that was rejected by IAM members in September. Representatives from IAM and the railroads then returned to the negotiating table to present this latest iteration.

According to the IAM, the revised and ratified agreement will include a cap on medical expenses and address issues related to individual room occupancy and travel and subsistence allowances.

The deal also includes plans to conduct a joint study with the railroads on overtime policies, as well as a “me-too” clause under which IAM would receive the same provisions should there be another deal that appears to improve AMI’s overtime hours .

A new collective agreement has been in the works for each of the 12 unions since January 2020, but negotiations between the unions and the railways are not progressing. In July, President Joe Biden appointed three independent experts to the PEB, who held hearings and obtained testimonies from interested parties on how unions and railroads could break the impasse. The PEB issued its recommendations, which would serve as a starting point for a new treaty.

So far, seven unions have ratified their agreements, while three more have yet to vote on whether to ratify their interim agreements, according to the NCCC. Two of the three are the two largest unions representing locomotive drivers and conductors, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD).

Two other unions, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way-Employes Division (BMWED) and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, recently voted to reject their interim agreements, bringing both back to the negotiating table with the railroads.

BMWED could initiate a work stoppage as early as Nov. 19, but that would be before BLET and SMART-TD have completed voting on their tentative agreements, the NCCC said.

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