Mediation Seen as Next Step in Contract Talks

Mediation is being seen as the next step in contract talks between railroad labor unions and the carriers that employ them, Railway Age columnist Frank N. Wilner wrote on the trade magazine’s website.

The Coordinated Bargaining Coalition, which represents most railroad labor unions, has declared that negotiations have reached an impasse.

Wilner wrote that the National Mediation Board is likely to appoint a senior mediator who will seek to guide the parties to a voluntary settlement.

The federal Railway Labor Act mandates that railroad labor contracts never expire. Typically, they are renegotiated every five years with the current round of talks having begun in 2020.

The RLA also sets out a series of steps that labor and management must meet before either may initiate a strike or lockout.

These steps involve cooling off periods lasting up to 90 days before either side can take self-help action.

Labor’s declaration of an impasse does not mean much because only the NMB has the authority to declare an impasse, which could then lead to the creation by President Joseph Biden of a presidential emergency board to make non-binding recommendations for a settlement.

Wilner wrote that the NMB usually is reluctant to declare an impasse during an election year. Members of Congress dislike having to address controversial issues that might force them to vote on a back-to-work order and/or third-party implementation of revised contract terms.

The Coordinated Bargaining Coalition represents 105,000 workers or nearly 90 percent of unionized railroad workers.

The other unionized workers are members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees and the Mechanical Division of SMART. Since July 2021 those unions have been engaged in mediation with carriers under the guidance of the NMB.

Representing carriers is the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, an arm of the National Railway Labor Conference.

NCCC represents most Class 1 carriers and several smaller railroads. However, some bargaining over some components of labor contracts is conducted directly between labor and individual carriers.

CSX, for example, participates in the national talks for wages, benefits and work rules for all non-operating crafts but limits its participation in talks for benefits for operating crafts.

Smaller railroads limit their participation in national contract negotiations to benefits issues.

Canadian Pacific is not an NCCC member and bargains separately with its unionized workers. Canadian National also bargains separately on wages for workers in U.S. train and engine service.

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