Posts Tagged ‘labor unions’

BLET Reaches Agreement with SBR

January 14, 2023

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has reached a tentative contract agreement with the South Buffalo Railway

Union members have until Feb. 10 to fill out and return a ratification ballot on the new pact. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

SBR workers are members of BLET Division 16. Owned by Genesee & Wyoming, SBR owns 52 miles of track in New York State and its operations are merged with the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad.

Biden Signs Congressional Resolution Imposing Contract on Rail Workers

December 3, 2022

As expected, President Joseph R. Biden signed on Friday a congressional resolution that settles a railroad contract dispute by imposing a tentative amended contract that had been reached in late September.

Biden cited the important of rail transportation to the nation’s well being in a signing statement.

The amended contract had been ratified by members of eight railroad labor unions and rejected by members of four other unions.

Signing the resolution heads off a potential railroad work stoppage that could have begun as early as Dec. 9.

The amended contract contains a 24 percent compounded wage increase over its five-year length.

Workers will receive back pay and a $5,000 bonus. The contract also contains an increase in travel disbursements for maintenance of way workers and no increases in health insurance co-pays or deductibles.

Senate Votes to Forestall Rail Work Stoppage

December 2, 2022

The Senate on Thursday voted to impose the tentative amended contract on unionized railroad workers thus ending two years of contentious collective bargaining and political wrangling that could have resulted in a national railroad work stoppage as early as Dec. 9.

The Senate voted 80-15 in favor a resolution adopted on Wednesday by the House to impose the tentative contract that members of four railroad labor unions rejected but members of eight other unions approved.

A second resolution to amend the tentative agreement to insert seven paid sick leave days failed to pass.

That resolution received a favorable 52-43 vote, but under Senate rules any measure that doesn’t receive at least 60 votes is subject to a filibuster.

The Senate also turned down on a 69-26 vote a resolution to extend the status quo for another 60 days, which if adopted would have sent the parties back to the bargaining table.

President Joseph R. Biden said in a statement he would sign the resolution imposing the amended contract as soon as it reaches his desk.

Biden and many other lawmakers had expressed fear that a railroad work stoppage would damage the nation’s economy.

Under federal law, labor contracts in the railroad industry never expire but can be amended, which typically occurs about every five years. Negotiations to amend the contract began in January 2020.

The tentative amended contract, which was reached in late September on the eve of another potential national work stoppage, gives unionized railroad workers a 24 percent compounded wage increase over the five-year length of the contract.

They will receive back pay once the amended contract is in force.

Various news reports in the past few months have indicated that work-life balance issues had become a major sticking point in the view of many unionized railroad workers.

They talked often about how they sometimes went to work feeling ill or fatigued because if they “marked off” they would not be paid and they would be subjected to being disciplined under what workers often described as “punitive” attendance policies.

Paid sick days became a focal point of the chatter surrounding the contract amendment process.

The amended contract, which was agreed to by the officers of all 12 railroad labor unions in September, did not include paid sick leave days.

Much of the September amended contract mirrored the recommendations of a presidential emergency board appointed by Biden last summer after federal mediators declared an impasse in the negotiations.

The PEB had recommended that the paid sick leave days issue be negotiated at the local level between unions and railroad management.

A resolution amending the contract to add seven paid sick leave days passed the House by a narrow margin on Wednesday. The voting was largely along partisan lines with Democrats supporting the resolution and Republicans opposed.

House Passes Resolution to Stop Rail Work Stoppage, OKs Paid Sick Leave for Rail Workers

December 1, 2022

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a resolution to impose the September tentative amended contract on railroad workers.

The resolution now moves to the Senate where it faces bipartisan support but also bipartisan opposition.

Senate leadership has not said when the resolution will be taken up by the Senate.

The House also passed by a narrow margin that largely fell along partisan lines a resolution to give unionized railroad workers seven paid sick leave days, something that the tentative agreement did not provide.

The vote on House Joint Resolution 100, which imposes the late September tentative agreement was 290-172. That included Republican “yes” votes and eight Democratic “no” votes.

The vote on the resolution providing the sick leave days was 221-207. Three Republicans supported the resolution while no Democrats voted against it.

The sick leave resolution amends the tentative September contract agreement by adding seven days of paid sick leave.

It gives the unions and management 30 days to reach agreement on implementing the sick leave provision. If they fail to do so, the matter of implementing the sick leave provision would be submitted to binding arbitration to be overseen by the National Mediation Board.

The amended contract affects unionized railroad workers who belong to 12 labor unions.

Members of four of those unions voted to reject the amended contract while members of eight voted in favor of ratification.

The unions that rejected the contract has said they will not strike before Dec. 9.

Under the federal Railway Labor Act, labor contracts in the railroad industry never expire but can be amended. The latest negotiations to amend the contract began in January 2020.

House Vote Expected Today to Thwart Rail Stoppage

November 30, 2022

The House of Representatives was expected to vote today on a resolution that would forestall a national railroad work stoppage that could begin as early as Dec. 9.

Throughout Tuesday members of the House and Senate expressed support for the resolution, which would impose the terms of an amended contract agreed to in late September by leaders of 12 railroad labor unions and the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management.

Some members of Congress, though expressed reservations that the resolution will not address the issue of sick days for unionized railroad workers.

The Politico website reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-California) plans to address that in part by having the House vote on two resolutions.

One resolution will impose the September tentative contract agreement while the other would grant seven sick days to railroad workers.

The sick days resolution was characterized by the Politico report as a way to appease House Democrats who have sided with rail labor unions on the sick days issue, but don’t want to an economy-damaging railroad work stoppage.

The resolution is expected to pass the House and probably will be approved by the Senate although there could be bumps in the road to passage.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said Tuesday that Congress needs to act soon, saying that without congressional action shipments of critical freight will halt in preparation for a shutdown.

That includes chemicals used to treat drinking water, feed for livestock, and “just in time delivery” of components used in manufacturing.

On Monday President Joseph R. Biden called for Congress to act, saying that a negotiated settlement of the contract dispute was unlikely to occur.

Members of four railroad labor unions have voted to reject the amended contract while members of eight unions have ratified it.

Secretary of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday about averting a rail strike, Politico reported.

He will reportedly tell lawmakers that the September tentative agreement is the best possible contract that could be achieved through negotiations.

Walsh was involved in brokering that agreement during an all-night negotiating session.

McConnell said Congress needs to head off a railroad work stoppage but said some of his members have mixed feeling about the matter

“I think some may be inclined to vote against it,” McConnell said. “And others are arguing that the economic price of doing that is too great.”

Schumer said he and McConnell both want to see the resolution pass the Senate quickly, but did not say how soon that will likely occur.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont said he will push for a vote on a resolution to give rail workers more paid sick leave.

In pressuring Congress to act quickly, various trade groups representing railroad shippers have said that carriers are likely to begin to embargo shipments of some freight this weekend ahead of a possible work stoppage.

At least one of the railroad labor unions whose members rejected the tentative agreement, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, issued a statement disagreeing with Congress imposing a settlement of the contract dispute.

The statement noted that Congressional action would not resolve the sick leave issue and would deny union members their right to strike.

The last national railroad work stoppage occurred in 1992 and was ended by congressional action.

Railway Age reported on its website that it had obtained a draft of the joint resolution that will be voted on by the House today.

The resolution cites the Commerce Clause of the Constitution as giving Congress the authority to ensure the uninterrupted operation of essential transportation services.

The magazine’s report said House rules require only 15 minutes of debate on each side and do not provide for “holds” or “filibusters.”

But the Senate does allow for unlimited debate although Senate Majority Leader Schumer is expected to seek unanimous consent  to send the House resolution to the Senate floor for a vote, where it would need only 51 votes for passage.

If even one senator objects to the call for unanimous consent, Senate rules require 30 hours of debate, one intervening day and 60 votes to cut off debate and advance the bill to the floor for a vote.

Railway Age reported that if the bid for unanimous consist fails, there is expected to be enough Republicans in favor of cutting off debate although that might mean the proceedings will linger into the weekend.

The Railway Age report said that as of Tuesday night neither of the two largest railroad labor unions or the National Carriers’ Conference Committee had issued statements on the prospect of congressional action to avert a railroad work stoppage.

Biden Wants Congress to Head Off Rail Work Stoppage

November 29, 2022

The four railroad labor unions that rejected a contract proposal may end up having that very contract forced upon them by Congress.

On Monday President Joseph R. Biden called on Congress to take action to avoid a national railroad work stoppage that could occur as early as Dec. 9 if lawmakers do not act.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) issued a statement that said the House is ready to drafy legislation to head off a railroad work stoppage.

Biden’s statement called Congressional intervention the best course of action, saying unions and railroad management agree with that.

 “This agreement was approved by labor and management negotiators in September,” Biden’s statement said. “On the day that it was announced, labor leaders, business leaders and elected officials all hailed it as a fair resolution of the dispute between the hard-working men and women of the rail freight unions and the companies in that industry.”

Biden’s statement said the secretaries of labor, agriculture and transportation have been in regular touch with labor leaders and management and have concluded that a negotiated settlement is unlikely to be reached.

Members of eight of the 12 railroad labor unions that agreed to the tentative contract in September have voted to ratify that agreement.

In the past couple weeks various trade associations representing railroad shippers have called on Congress to intervene to prevent a railroad work stoppage, saying it would harm the economy.

Biden noted his pro-labor beliefs made him reluctant to “override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case—where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families—I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

Railway Age Washington correspondent Frank Wilner wrote on the magazine’s website that “the behind the scenes chatter is that carriers and labor cannot find a way out of this stalemate” but neither side wants a work stoppage.

Wilner noted that most unionized railroad workers who voted on the contract favored it, including members of the second largest union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Members of the largest railroad labor union, the SMART-Transportation Division, rejected the contract by a narrow margin.

Wilner noted that a Congressional settlement of the contract dispute would insulate the leaders of unions whose members voted to reject the contract.

Another consideration was that Republicans will take control of the House in early January and Democrats want to resolve the rail labor contract dispute while they control both houses of Congress.

In her statement, Pelosi said the bill being drafted in the House  will not contain “poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms.”

Under federal railway labor laws, contracts in the railroad industry never expire. Instead, the contracts can be amended, usually about every five years.

The last national railroad work stoppage occurred in 1992. There have been four railroad work stoppages since the end of World War II with the longest being four days.

In all four work stoppages, Congress voted to end them by imposing new contract terms.

A Primmer on What Lies Ahead in the Coming Weeks in the Rail Labor Contract Dispute

November 23, 2022

Writing on the website of Railway Age, Frank Wilner said predicting what will happen in the next phase of the contract talks between railroad labor unions and management is akin to trying to find a black cat in a dark room.

It’s an apt description because neither side is going to reveal what it is willing to give up and what it absolutely must have in the negotiations to amend the contract that governs wages, benefits and work rules at most Class 1 railroads and many smaller ones. Tipping your hand is not a good negotiating strategy even if bluffing and posturing might be.

The major talking point of most stories to date is that a national railroad work stoppage looms as early as Dec. 4, the date one of the unions rejecting the contract has said is the earliest it might strike. Other stories have given Dec. 9 as the most likely date a work stoppage could begin.

At this point the railroad contract negotiations have become a contest of wills with each side seeking to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their adversary and how best to exploit those.

Under the federal Railway Labor Act contracts in the railroad industry never expire but can be amended, which is what is going on now.

Talks to amend the contract began in early 2020. It is typical for contract talks to drag out for years before reaching an agreement.

What we know at this point is that members of four of the 12 railroad labor unions involved in the negotiations have rejected the proposed amended contract.

Those unions and the percentage they represent of the approximately 115,000 railroad workers they represent include the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (19 percent), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (6 percent), International Association of Boilermakers and Blacksmiths (1 percent) and SMART-TD, excluding yardmasters (30 percent).

The eight unions that have ratified the tentative agreement and the percentage of the total their members represent are the American Train Dispatchers Association (1 percent), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (20 percent), Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (7 percent), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (5 percent), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (5 percent), Mechanical Division of SMART (1 percent), National Conference of Firemen and Oilers (2 percent), and the Transportation Communications Union (3 percent). 

Although it remains to be seen how the contract dispute will eventually be resolved, there are a number of directions it could go.

The four unions that rejected the contract could reach a different – and presumably from their standpoint better – agreement than the one they turned down. If so, those provisions would be applied to the contracts already ratified.

There is widespread agreement on both sides that this is the best option. But is it the most realistic one?

The carriers have issued public statements saying they will not offer any more concessions and that any changes in the proposed contract amendments must be in alignment with the recommendations of a presidential emergency board tissues its findings for a new contract back in August.

That statement was posturing even if it probably reflects generally how the carriers view the negotiations.

That is bad news for the unions who through their own public statements have said the sticking point is not how much money their members will make in wages – the two sides have agreed on that – but a demand for paid sick time off from work.

Another avenue is the leaders of the unions rejecting the contract could override the will of their members and agree to submit the contract dispute to binding arbitration.

This doesn’t happen often, but it has occurred, most recently in 1996 when officers of the United Transportation Union overrode member rejection of a tentative agreement in favor of binding arbitration.

If negotiations fail, there are several ways the dispute can go but all of them lead back to Congress imposing a settlement.

It would be a matter of how lawmakers choose to do that. Congress has stepped in before, most recently 1992, the last time a national railroad work stoppage occurred.

Congress could impose terms of a settlement, it could order the appointment of a new presidential emergency board or it could direct the parties to submit to binding arbitration.

Lawmakers could also order workers to go back to work and the two sides to return to the bargaining table. In such an event there will be a long “cooling off” period imposed in which a strike or lockout would be prohibited.

All of those courses of action carry risks which is why both sides would prefer to reach a negotiated settlement.

The risk is getting stuck with an “settlement” that contains one or more provisions you consider unpalatable.

For unions that could mean having imposed on them a contract that is less generous than the one some of them voted to reject.

As for what happens in early December if no negotiated agreement has been reached and Congress has not acted, that remains to be seen.

That deadline only means that by law union members are legally able to strike and railroads are legally able to lock out their employees.

It doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a work stoppage on that day even if that seems likely given the heated rhetoric being tossed about. The timing of when to strike or when to lock out your workers is critical and involves a calculation of when is the most advantageous time to actually go to war.

That might be sooner, it might be later. What might you be better positioned to gain now that you might be less likely to gain later and vice versa?

The unions and carriers have signaled that no work stoppage will occur if Congress is not in session. That suggests no one wants a work stoppage to last any longer than “necessary,” whatever that might ,mean.

In the past unions have sought to conduct limited strikes by targeting one carrier while still working at others.

The carriers have foiled this strategy by locking out workers in the belief that a strike again one railroad is strike against all of them. Likewise, if one union strikes, the remaining unions will honor picket lines.

In the past, railroad strikes and lockouts have been of short duration, usually a few days with the longest since World War having been four days.

The conventional wisdom is that the adverse effect of a railroad work stoppage is something the nation’s economy can’t tolerate.

That is still true and is, in fact, something the unions are counting on to force the carriers to give in on the sick days issue.

But there are other considerations that come into play, including political calculus.

The most recent mid-term elections have preserved the Democrats paper-thin margin of control of the Senate. The House will be in control of Republicans starting in January.

No one may want an economy-disrupting railroad work stoppage, but there are still gains to be had if one were to occur.

Republicans in Congress will see a work stoppage as an opportunity to inflict political damage on President Joseph Biden – at least for a time.

Democrats will see an opportunity to burnish their reputations or perceived reputations of being pro-labor — at least for a time.

It would take at least 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a potential filibuster of any proposed contract settlement. That could get dicey because it will put members of Congress into a position to have to vote on something they would rather avoid.

But at some point Congress faces the prospect of having to act lest the economy continue to suffer intolerable damage.

Another reality is that a strike would affect millions of Americans and they are not going to remain passive as they suffer economic harm and inconvenience.

The involvement of other audiences in the dispute is going to play a major role in dictating how the fight will be resolved.

Each side will be taking its best shot at influencing how those audiences view the dispute. In fact that process has been going on for several months now.

If a work stoppage occurs and if Congress does not immediately act to end it, the calculations change yet again.

Striking railroad workers will immediately see their health care insurance benefits cut off and although they will receive strike pay and, eventually, unemployment benefits, those would be just a portion of what they normally earn in wages. That will plunge some railroad workers into an economic purgatory and bring financial hardships to all of them.

Railroads will lose revenue and that will hurt them financially. Yet today’s Class 1 railroads are well positioned to weather a long work stoppage. They are not Penn Central, Erie Lackawanna, the Rock Island or the Milwaukee Road, all of which in the 1970s were strapped for cash and ended up in bankruptcy court.

Class 1 railroads today may be having customer service issues, experiencing work shortages, and losing market share to trucks, but they are not losing money. Today’s Class 1 railroads have never been financially stronger.

It is noteworthy that the margin of SMART-TD members rejecting the contract was barely over 50 percent. The percentage of BLET members voting in favor of the contract was just over 53 percent.

This is significant because it shows a split in thinking among unionized railroaders that could potentially come into play in the current dispute.

The unions are not as united as the front they are seeking to put up. Internal strife could become a factor in the dispute as those missed paychecks begin to take their toll on the household budgets of railroaders.

It also could hold longer-term implications. The railroads have not sought to hide their desire to reduce the number of conductors assigned to trains. The unions have managed to thwart those efforts for now, but the conductor issue is not going to go away.

Fissures within unions that break open during a strike and/or work stoppage could weaken unions longer term and that is something railroad management will look to exploit and union leadership fears.

For that matter the continuous relationship between railroad labor and management will continue to linger beyond whatever “settlement” is reached in the current round of contract talks because the working conditions issue that railroadrts talk a lot about these days isn’t going away either. But that is a discussion for another day.

In the meantime, railroads are likely to begin curtailing as soon as Nov. 28 shipments of certain commodities as the early December work stoppage date approaches if no new settlement is reached.

Trains magazine reported that a work stoppage would complicate the shipping of agricultural commodities due to record low water levels that have halted Mississippi River barge traffic.

There is only only so much that trucking companies can do to pick up the slack due to a shortage of trucks.

Still, shippers are likely to divert freight to highways in advance of the strike deadline. They took similar action in September when another strike/ockout deadline loomed.

However this current dispute is “resolved,” a lot of folks are going to come away displeased if not angry. Some of them are going to get a harsh lesson in the realities of labor-management relations. It will be but one chapter in an ongoing novel and a nice, tidy ending.

2 Largest Rail Unions Give Contract a Split Decision

November 22, 2022

The last votes on ratifying a new contract are now in and the tally shows a split decision that could result in December in a national railroad work stoppage.

Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted to ratify the contract while members of the Transportation Division of International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers narrowly voted to reject it.

What happens next is unclear. Most news reports have indicated that a work stoppage – if one were to occur through either a strike, lockout or both – would not occur before Dec. 9.

BLET and SMART-TD were the last of 12 railroad labor unions to release results of ratification voting.

Members of four of those unions voted to reject the contract while members of the other eight unions voted to accept it.

Technically, union members were not voting on a new contract as such but on amendments to the existing contract. Under federal railway labor laws labor contracts in the railroad industry never expire but are instead amended on a schedule of roughly every five years.

However, it can take years to go through that process with the latest talks having begun before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020.

The amendments that unionized railroad workers voted on involve wage benefits and work rules at most Class I railroads and some smaller railroads.

BLET members, who constitute 20 percent of the unionized railroad labor force, voted to accept the contract by a margin of 53.5 percent in favor to 46.5 percent opposed.

A narrow margin of 50.87 percent of SMART-TD members voted against the contract.

SMART-TD members constitute 30 percent of the unionized railroad labor force affected by the contract amendments.

Notably, railroad yardmasters who are represented by SMART-TD voted to ratify the contract agreement.

What happens next remains to be seen. Statements issued by the unions that rejected the contract indicated they planned to return to the bargaining table.

Statements issued by the entities representing the carriers have said they will not agree to any more contract changes that are not covered by the recommendations of a presidential emergency board that issued its non-binding findings in late summer.

The PEB recommended higher wage increases than the carriers had offered during negotiations but was largely silent on the issue of time off for workers who are ill or need time off to attend medical appointments.

Potentially, Congress could step in and impose a settlement of the labor dispute as it did during the last railroad work stoppage in 1992.

3rd Rail Labor Union Rejects Contract

November 15, 2022

Members of a third railroad labor union have voted against ratification of a tentative contract agreement.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, which has 300 members, did not release the vote totals.

Thus far members of seven unions have ratified the tentative contract while two others plan to announce ratification vote results on Nov. 21.

A national railroad work stoppage would not occur before Dec. 4 because the various unions that have voted down the contract have agreed not to strike before then.

The last national railroad work stoppage occurred in 1992.

Rail Stoppage Won’t Happen Before Early December

November 10, 2022

A possible national railroad work stoppage won’t come before early December.

The National Carriers Conference Committee and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have agreed to extend a cooling off period until Dec. 4. It had been set to expire on Nov. 19.

The maintenance workers union’s members earlier rejected a tentative contract agreement and the two sides have yet to reach another pact.

Members of another union, the Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen, also also voted to reject the tentative agreement, which has been ratified by members of seven other unions.

The two largest railroad labor unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART-Transportation Division are still voting on ratification and expected to announce results later this month.