ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, US – Another US railroad union has rejected ratification of a national tentative agreement proposed last month to avoid a shutdown with significant ramifications for the US economy, particularly as the fall grain harvest was underway.
The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) union, representing more than 6,000 members, rejected the latest proposal, with 60.57% voting not to approve it. Following the latest rejection, the BRS and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) agreed to a “status quo” period until early December.
“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,” said Michael Baldwin, president of BRS. “I have expressed my disappointment throughout the process in the lack of good-faith bargaining on the part of the NCCC, as well as the part PEB 250 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.”
On Sept. 15, US President Joe Biden announced a tentative railway labor agreement following marathon negotiations at the Labor Department just hours before a strike was set to begin.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) put out a report at the time estimating that the US economy would take a $2 billion a day hit if the trains stopped moving. The AAR also noted that railroads transport 1.5 million carloads of grain each year, with corn by far the highest volume grain carried by rail.
The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) said rail moves about 25% of all US grain. The strike would have occurred as the country’s fall corn and soybean harvest was accelerating.
A spokesperson for the AAR, representing the freight railroads in negotiations, said half of all rail unions have ratified the agreement based on Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) recommendations.
The AAR said this included the largest wage increases in nearly five decades and would provide immediate payouts averaging more than $11,000 per railroader ahead of the holidays. The association also responded to the claims of paid time off for illness.
“While statements have been made about rail workers being unable to take time off, this is false,” the AAR said. “Most railroaders – BRS members included – are scheduled employees who work predictable schedules and have ample paid time off. Thanks to decades of bargaining, BRS members also have generous sickness benefits that begin after four days and can last up to 52 weeks.”
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED), which first rejected the proposal earlier in October, cannot go on strike until Nov. 19.The last railway strike in the United States happened in 1992, when Congress passed legislation that ended a two-day rail shutdown.