Railway union postpones date for possible strike

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way – Employes Division (BMWED) will not go on strike after November 19, instead opting to delay any action until early December, saying the date change will allow railroads to do their best Offer without threat of an impending strike.

The period during which BMWED members must maintain the status quo in their respective locations will be agreed with three other unions who have yet to ratify their collective agreements. Those three unions — the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART) and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) — have yet to vote or retract on it whether to ratify their provisional employment contracts.

This status quo period is also known as the “cooling-off period” and during this time neither the unions nor the railways are permitted by federal law to carry out work stoppages or self-help measures.

The status quo periods for BLET and SMART-TD will run until just after midnight on December 9, and that will end BMWED’s deadline to maintain the status quo, the union said in a statement Wednesday. BMWED had previously said its status quo period would end after November 19.

BRS’ status quo period lasts until Dec. 4, but there is a clause that the deadline could be pushed back to Dec. 9 should ratification fail for any of the in-service vehicles, according to the Association of American Railroad (AAR).

The extension of the status quo period allows BMWED and BRS to continue negotiations with the railways. Members of BRS and BMWED rejected their initial tentative agreements, and BMWED said on Wednesday it was still not possible to reach consensus with the railways on the sick leave scheme.

BMWED has also opted to extend the status quo period until the midterm election heat has subsided.

“We will now have an opportunity to enlighten Congress and get a better law for railroad workers, not for the railroads,” BMWED said. “Associating with the BRS and possibly the contractors will also improve our chances that Congress will not intervene on behalf of the railroad and instead allow us to strike if necessary. Ultimately, this improves our chances of paid sick leave.”

BMWED noted that there is already a bill introduced by Republican Senators Richard Burr and Roger Wicker banning unions from going on strike and enforcing the tentative agreement unchanged with no railroad-specific out-of-home arrangements.

The union strongly disagreed with the railroads’ actions to halt operations ahead of possible strikes, saying such action would be “a premature self-help by the railroads and a breach of their joint carriage obligations to provide services to their customers.” BMWED also said that these actions would serve as “a manipulative attempt to get Congress to intervene against the interests of railroad workers.”

“This is the railroad’s last chance to do the right thing by volunteering to provide paid sick leave to all employees. If the railroads don’t give up a penny of every dollar of profits for paid sick leave for their valued employees by December 8th, and there is either a strike or a lockout, or both, the railroads will be responsible for imposing a closure on their operations and the economic damage for their customers, the country’s economic supply chain and the overall US economy,” BMWED said.

“Congress should not step in and bail out the railroads if they continue to refuse to provide paid sick leave to railroad workers. But if Congress steps in, then we demand that Congress side with the workers by enforcing the interim national agreement and company-specific agreements along with paid sick leave for all railroad workers,” the union continued.

In response to BMWED’s decision to extend the status quo period, the National Carriers Conference Committee, the group representing freight railroads at the negotiating table, said railroads “will remain in touch with and continue to engage with BMWED during the extended reflection period.” will endeavor to reach an agreement based on the framework recommended by the Presidential Emergency Board 250. Agreements based on the PEB recommendations were endorsed by President Biden as “a win for tens of thousands of railroad workers” and ratified by members of seven other unions.”

NCCC also said extending the cooling off period will allow members of those unions to complete their voting without being disrupted by an impending strike.

AAR said the extension of BMWED allows unions to complete their ratification votes and provide more security for business, rail customers and rail travelers ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“This cooling off agreement gives all unionized employees the opportunity to vote on their agreements free from the threat of a strike,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies in a press release. “Our goal remains the same – the successful conclusion of this round of negotiations – and we stand ready to reach an agreement with BMWED based on the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board.”

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, BLET and SMART-TD.

The seven unions that have endorsed their agreements are the American Train Dispatchers Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, the Mechanical and Engineering Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Workers and the Rail Division of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 19.

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