Locomotive mechanics narrowly agree to the ratification of the collective agreement

Members of District 19 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) narrowly agreed to ratify an employment contract that has taken nearly three years to finalize.

Fifty-two percent voted to accept the deal, IAM said on Saturday. Approximately 59% of IAM members voted. Total membership is approximately 4,900 workers serving as locomotive mechanics, roadway mechanics and plant maintenance personnel for the railroads.

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” but acknowledged the contract lacked general appeal.

“Our union recognizes that the agreement was not overwhelmingly accepted, so our team will continue to speak to our members at our marshalling 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 agreement and what would happen if it were denied.”

“Our fight has been able to shed light on work-life balance issues and the lack of adequately paid sick leave. Our union will continue to amplify the shortcomings in airlines’ sick leave and attendance policies,” IAM said.

The National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), the group representing rail freight, said they were pleased with IAM’s voting results.

“The IAM agreement, like agreements with six other rail unions that have already been ratified, implements Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) Recommendation No. 250, including the largest pay package in nearly five decades, and keeps rail workers healthy platinum-level benefits and adds an additional day of paid time off for IAM-represented workers,” said NCCC.

“The successful result announced today follows an initial unsuccessful attempt at ratification by the IAM last month. The ratified agreement is in line with the framework recommended by the PEB,” 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 work out this latest iteration.

According to the IAM, the revised ratified agreement will include a cap on healthcare costs and will address issues related to single room occupancy and travel expenses and per diem rates.

The agreement also includes plans to conduct a joint study with the railways on overtime and overtime policy, as well as a “me-too” clause in which IAM would receive the same provisions should there be another arrangement that covered IAM’s agreement seems to improve.

A new collective agreement for each of the 12 unions has been in the works since January 2020, but negotiations between the unions and the railways have not progressed. In July, President Joe Biden appointed three independent experts to the PEB, which conducted hearings and received input from stakeholders on how unions and railroads could break the deadlock. PEB issued its recommendations, which would serve as a starting point for a new treaty.

So far, seven unions have ratified their agreements, while another three 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 train crew and engineers, 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 tentative agreements, putting both back at 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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