Rail deal falls through

Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division votes to reject the deal brokered by the Biden administration.

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Kerry Garrison | dreamstime.com

The membership of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED), the third-largest railroad union in the U.S., voted against ratification of the tentative national agreement reached with the Class I freight railroads. The vote sends the railroad companies and their workers back to the bargaining table and resets the countdown to a potential work stoppage.

The tentative deal was secured in mid-September after about 20 hours of talks brokered by the Biden administration to avert a rail shutdown that could have affected supply chains, freezing many cargo shipments and causing inflation to spike. Negotiations between the railroads, including Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Kansas City Southern, and a dozen unions had been ongoing for more than two years.

“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement, and we recognize and understand that result,” President Tony D. Cardwell says in a news release following the vote. “I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued. They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness. The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

The American Arbitration Association counted and verified the election results. In total, 11,845 BMWED members submitted ballots, 6,646 against ratification and 5,100 approving the tentative agreement. Ninety-nine remaining ballots were submitted blank or voided for some other user error.

“The membership voted in record numbers on this tentative agreement, exhibiting that they are paying close attention and are engaged in the process,” Cardwell adds. “BMWED members are concerned with the direction of their employers and the mismanagement and greed in which they have consistently implemented and are united in their resolve to improve their working conditions across the entire Class I rail network.”

The rejection of the tentative agreement results in a “status quo” period where the BMWED says it will reengage bargaining with the Class I freight carriers. That status quo period will extend to five days after Congress reconvenes, which is currently set for Nov. 14.

Billy Johnson, chief lobbyist at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, previously told Recycling Today that if the tentative agreement isn’t ratified, it could spell problems for supply chains and the economy. 

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