Signal Workers Reject Tentative Labor Pact

A second railroad labor union has voted to reject a tentative new contract.

Members of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen voted against the contract by a margin of 60.57 percent against and 39.23 percent in favor.

In a statement the union’s president, Michael Baldwin, said it was the first time he could remember BRS members voting to reject a contract.

He added that the voting had the highest participation rate in the union’s history.

“I have expressed my disappointment throughout the process in the lack of good-faith bargaining on the part of the NCCC [National Carriers Conference Committee], as well as the part [Presidential Emergency Board] PEB 250 played in denying BRS members the basic right of paid time off for illness,” Baldwins said.

Earlier, members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division voted against the contract.

The head of that union also made similar comments about how lack of paid sick time played a role in member discontent.

However, that brought a retort from the National Railway Labor Conference that contrary to the signal maintainers union’s statement, its members can take time off for medical reasons and that they have predictable work schedules.

“Like other rail employees, they can and do take time off for sickness and already have paid sickness benefits beginning after four days of illness-related absence and extending for up to a year.

“The structure of these benefits is a function of decades of bargaining where the unions have repeatedly agreed that short-term absences would be unpaid in favor of higher compensation for days worked and more generous sickness benefits for longer absences.”

The NRLC is an association of all U.S. Class 1 railroads and some smaller carriers. It negotiates with unions through its National Carriers Conference Committee.

In a statement, then NCCC characterized the tentative agreement that members of two unions have rejected as offering the largest wage package in nearly five decades and “platinum level” health care benefits that also include an additional day of paid time off.

Thus far members of six railroad labor unions have ratified the tentative agreement.

A strike or lockout is not imminent because the unions and carriers have agreed to maintain the status quo until early December.

The last national railroad stoppage occurred in 1992 when unions struck CSX. However, all carriers locked out their workers because they view a strike against one carrier as a strike against all of them.

Aside from a strike or lockout, the union-management dispute could be settled by third-party intervention.

Railway Age reported that Congress could impose a settlement as has happened in past labor disputes.

That legislative solution could implement the tentative agreement thus far rejected by two unions or it could impose the recommendations of the presidential emergency board, which were less generous to unions than the tentative agreement.

Yet another way of ending the dispute could be binding arbitration.

That would require the consent of both sides in the dispute. The Railway Age report said that could mean labor union leaders would disregard the wishes of their members, something that has happened in the past.

The Railway Age report said Congressional action is not a sure thing to happen in a highly partisan environment.

Legislation to impose a settlement in the railroad labor dispute is known to have been drafted by Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and other proposals may be in the works.

Any Congressional action to impose a settlement would need at least 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster.

“Congress could legislate a resolution, but the hyper-partisanship that surrounds labor policy in the U.S. Congress makes finding 60 votes for any solution in an evenly divided Senate a long shot, at best,” Seth Harris, formerly a labor advisor in the Biden Administration, told Railway Age.

Ratification voting continues at the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation workers.

Voting tallies from those unions will not be released until mid-November.

Other unions still voting include Division 19 of the International Association of Machinists, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Forgers and Helpers.

Unions that have voted to ratify include the American Train Dispatchers Association, Brotherhood Railway Carmen, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Mechanical Division of SMART, National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, and Transportation Communications Workers.

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