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October 11, 2022 / Updated June 26, 2023
More than half of Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division members voted Monday against ratifying the tentative national labor agreement reached last month with Class I freight railroads, sending the two sides back to the bargaining table and again raising fears of a work stoppage.
BMWED president Tony D. Cardwell said railroaders are upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. The union voted down the contract 56 percent to 43 percent.
“Railroaders do not feel valued,” Cardwell said of workers in the nation’s third largest railroad union. “They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness.”
The tentative agreement was arrived at just hours before a planned strike in mid-September. It provides rail employees a 24 percent wage increase over five years, retroactive to 2020, and includes an immediate payout on average of $11,000. Workers will get an immediate 14 percent wage increase once compounded with an additional 4 percent July 1, 2023, and 4.5 percent July 1, 2024.
BMWED’s rejection of the deal results in a “status quo” period where the union reengages bargaining with the Class I freight carriers. That period will extend to five days after Congress reconvenes, which is set for Nov. 14. Assuming Congress returns to session, there could be no “self-help” until after the 19th.
Cardwell said the vote means there is much work to do to “establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”
BMWED is the only union thus far to reject the agreement, which took two years to negotiate.
The American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have approved the deal, according to the National Railway Labor Conference, a U.S. railroad association.
ATDA’s members on Belt Railway of Chicago, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Conrail, CSXT, Indiana Harbor Belt, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, and Wisconsin Central ratified the agreement, with 64 percent voting in favor.
The majorities of each craft in the Transportation Communications Union turned out in record numbers to ratify.
A new independent electronic voting process enabled greater member participation, the union said on its website. Fifty-eight percent of the Carmen Division voted in the ratification, compared to just 28 percent who voted in the 2018 ratification. Forty-nine percent of clerical employees voted, compared to 34 percent in 2018.
Tentative agreements with eight other labor organizations, including BMWED, need ratifying to resolve one of the nation’s most intense labor disputes. The two largest unions are expected to vote by mail.
The Association of American Railroads says a strike could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion per day. Economic damage would include retail product shortages, lost jobs, widespread plant shutdowns, higher consumer and business costs, and disruption to Amtrak passenger service, according to AAR