Rail Strike Watch: Potential Strike Pushed Back to December
The can keeps getting kicked down the road on the potential rail strike that would cripple U.S. supply chains. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) has extended its cooling off period, during which a status quo of no strike and no lockout will be maintained, from November 19th to December 4th.
This move aligns the date BMWED could go on strike with the date set for the other union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalment (BRS), that rejected the tentative agreement the Biden Administration pressured the railroads and union leaders into back in September.
However, BMWED said the date is dependent on whether or not the two largest rail worker unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD), ratify the agreement. If either of those unions vote to reject the agreement, as BMWED and BRS have done, BMWED will set its status quo period to end on December 9th, which would line up with the larger unions’ date.
It is expected BRS would also line up its cooling-off period’s end with that of the other unions should either BLET or SMART-TD fail to ratify the agreement.
One of the reasons BMWED gives for this extended time before a portential strike is that Republican Senators Richard Burr and Roger Wicker have already introduced a bill to prohibit a rail strike.
Among the union’s strategy of actions with the extended time before a strike is the plan to lobby Congress:
“This will also provide an opportunity to increasingly educate Members of Congress – who have been out of session and consumed by the mid-term elections – about the railroad workers’ state of despair that management has created, and the railroad workers’ need for paid sick time off,” BMWED stated in its release yesterday about the moving back the end of its cooling-off period.
Obviously, if Congress immediately stops a strike, that strike would hardly be effective.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) used this threat of Congress shutting down a strike to pressure its membership into ratifying the tentative agreement with a re-vote, which barely passed after initially being rejected.
While the administration hailed the tentative agreement as a great rail-strike-averting victory, what it really did was push back a potential strike to after the midterm elections. Rail workers have been dissatisfied with the deal. Many workers complained about its lack of transparency. However, the biggest sticking point is the failure of the agreement to meet union demands for more sick leave.
“The railroads continue to reject all BMWED and BRS proposals for paid sick leave,” BMWED said in its release. It seems as long as this demand is not met, these two unions, at the least, plan to initiate a strike.
Here’s the full text of BMWED’s announcement:
BMWED Joins BRS and Possibly Other Rail Unions in Our Struggle to Get More in Our Contract.
Published: Nov 9 2022 10:11AM
The BMWE has joined the BRS and possibly the BLET and SMART-TD Crafts subject to the outcome of their respective ratifications, with the same status quo period for the following reasons:
1. Republican Senators Richard Burr and Roger Wicker have already introduced a bill that would prohibit us from striking and further impose the National Tentative Agreement without the railroad-specific agreements for away from home expenses.
2. There is no other bill in congress at this time to allow us to strike; Congresspersons have been consumed with the mid-term elections. We will now have an opportunity to educate Congress and obtain a better bill written for Railroad Workers, not the railroads.
3. Joining with the BRS and possibly the operating crafts will also improve our chances of not having Congress intervene on the railroads behalf and instead allow us to strike if necessary. This ultimately strengthens our chances to get paid sick leave.
The railroads continue to reject all BMWED and BRS proposals for paid sick leave. There are reports indicating the railroads intend to begin ceasing various rail operations within the next few days, in anticipation of a strike on November 20, even though in September they did not start taking such action until five days before the date of potential exercise of self-help. These service shutdowns would be a premature exercise of self-help by the railroads and a violation of their common carrier obligations to provide services to their customers. These shutdowns would also represent a blatant attempt to cause panic and economic harm to the railroads’ customers and the U.S. economy right before the Thanksgiving holiday. They would also be a manipulative attempt to instigate Congress to intervene against the interests of railroad workers. The railroad workers are not the problem here and are not to blame for the current situation. The American public and the railroads’ customers deserve better. They cannot be held hostage to protect the immense wealth of the railroads’ greedy executives and shareholders.
Therefore, the BMWED National Division Bargaining Committee has determined to extend its status quo period to synchronize with our Brothers and Sisters in the BRS Union if the BLET or SMART-TD Unions ratify their tentative agreements. However, if the BLET or SMART-TD fail to ratify their agreement, BMWED’s status quo period will then end at the same time as either the BLET or SMART-TD, which is at 0000:01 Eastern time on December 9, 2022.
With this extension, BLET and SMART-TD will have the opportunity to finish their ratification procedures for any tentative national agreements without disruption. If these Unions do not ratify, then we will have the opportunity to bring all of Rail Labor together, under a single deadline, to finish national negotiations. This is most appropriate given that we entered into the PEB together and we should continue through the final stages of this process together. This will also provide an opportunity to increasingly educate Members of Congress – who have been out of session and consumed by the mid-term elections – about the railroad workers’ state of despair that management has created, and the railroad workers’ need for paid sick time off.
More importantly, with this extension, there is absolutely no reason for the railroads to discontinue services or threaten to discontinue their services causing intentional economic harm to their customers and the U.S. economy. Such a tactic by the railroads is completely unnecessary. There is now more than adequate time for the railroads to come to the bargaining table, engage in good-faith negotiations with us and reach a voluntary Agreement to provide all railroad workers with paid sick leave. BMWED’s proposal would literally cost one penny of every dollar of the railroads’ record profits assuming full use by every single member. It is less than 2 percent of the $11.5 BILLION that CSX, NS and UP have spent alone on stock buybacks through the third quarter of 2022. Stock buybacks that simply enhance the wealth of investors and do absolutely nothing to improve the railroads’ infrastructure or lackluster services.
This is the railroads’ last chance to do the right thing by voluntarily agreeing to provide paid sick leave to all employees. If the railroads fail to give up one penny of every dollar of profit for paid sick leave for their highly valued employees by December 8th, and there is either a strike or lockout or both, then the railroads will be responsible for the imposition of a shutdown of their operations and the economic harms to its customers, the country’s economic supply chain and the entire U.S. economy.
Congress should not intervene and rescue the railroads if they continue to refuse to provide railroad workers with paid sick leave. But, if Congress does intervene, then we demand that Congress must side with the workers by imposing the tentative national agreement and carrier specific agreements along with paid sick leave for all railroad workers.
Railroads, the clock is ticking! Come to the table now and do the right thing: provide all railroad workers with paid sick leave and we can spare the country a shutdown. Your failure to do so is at your own behest.