Contract Voting to Last Through Mid-November

The ratification process of the tentative railroad labor contract is expected to drag on into mid-November.

Trains magazine reported Friday on its website that the two largest railroad labor unions, the SMART Transportation Division, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, have provided their members a timeline for how the ratification process will play out.

The timeline includes a question-and-answer period in which members are being invited to pose questions about the contract agreement.

As part of that Q&A process, the unions said they might need to return to the negotiating table with the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management, to clarify the meaning of certain contract provisions and how they will be implemented in practice.

BLET and SMART-TD represent about half of the 125,000 union railroad workers affected by the recent contract talks. Those workers are represented by 12 unions.

Under the timelines released by BLET and SMART-TD, voting would begin in mid-October with results announced in mid-November.

That would effectively put off a potential work stoppage until after the mid-term elections.

The Trains report also indicated that negotiations continue between the NCCC and the International Association of Machinists District Lodge 19, whose members voted down a tentative contract earlier this month.

A memo sent to members from the union, which represents mechanics, said the talks are making progress.

Members of two railroad labor unions have voted to ratify tentative agreements while the ratification process is ongoing with other unions.

One reason for the Q&A sessions is because some rail workers say they want more concrete details about the changes in sick leave and assigned days off that were agreed to in the tentative pact announced early on the morning of Sept. 15, less than 24 hours before a potential national rail work stoppage.

The Hill, a website devoted to covering the federal government and politics, said some rail workers are wondering how strong the contract language is.

Earlier this week leaders of BLET and SMART-TD told their members that some of the language was still being written and reviewed by attorneys representing both sides of the talks.

Ron Kaminkow, an organizer at Railroad Workers United, told The Hill there’s “a lot of anger, confusion and hostility” toward the new agreement because workers believe what they have been told thus far has been intentionally vague.

In an interview with The Hill, Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, predicted workers eventually will ratify the agreements but there will be a “sizeable number of ‘no’ votes.”

Bruno said it may be that union negotiating committees “misread what the rank and file would support.”

He said many of the “no” votes will be motivated by rail workers who feel they’ve been abused.

“Usually, there’s a way to kind of figure out money,” Bruno said. “It’s very often issues that go to respect and go to treatment, working autonomy, worker ability to have some control over their life. I think it reflects just how much power employers can have, even under a collective bargaining agreement.”

The Hill report also indicated that many rail workers dread the prospect of Congress imposing new contract terms on rail workers.

That might occur because elected officials fear a railroad work stoppage would disrupt the economy by keeping shipments of food, fuel and other key commodities from moving.

Quoting an unnamed Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer, The Hill report said workers believe that that gives them leverage in getting what they want from railroad management, particularly in terms of work rules.

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