Union reaches deal to avert strike

By Carter Roos, Guest Writer

Railroad workers and their unions reached a tentative deal with management to avert a national strike. Workers were raising concerns around compensation and workers’ medical rights.

After months of tension among rail workers, their union and management at various freight rail companies, a tentative agreement was reached early last Thursday, avoiding a strike among workers.

The agreement came less than two days before the deadline set by the various unions involved in discussions and provides a temporary relief to the threat of the strike, which could have had major economic repurcussions. 

Threats of the strike began in July. President Joe Biden issued an order to temporarily prevent the strike and form the Presidential Emergency Board, a group assigned to find a solution to the dispute between railroad workers and management.

The “cooling-off” period imposed by Biden would have ended on Friday Sept. 16, allowing the unions to legally strike. This deadline led to the emergency talks beginning early on Wednesday Sept. 14 that lasted nearly 20 hours. The talks ultimately produced the tentative agreement that is now being put up to a vote of union members for ratification.

Photo courtesy of landline.media

The primary demands of the unions regarded worker’s compensation as well as worker’s medical rights. 

In a news release, the presidents of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) as well as the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers stated, “The agreement provides our members with the ability to take time away from work to attend routine and preventative medical procedures, as well as exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgical procedures”. 

The agreement also grants union members an immediate  14% pay raise, with back pay through 2020. and will continually raise workers’ pay through 2024, totaling raises of 24% to members of the unions.

The current agreement addresses the union representatives’ main concerns; however, some union members have made it clear that they are not entirely satisfied with the deal. 

President of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Michael Baldwin noted: “We got a little bit of paid time off, but we’ll live to fight another day. You know, that’s part of bargaining.” Baldwin also supported ratification of the current proposal.

“They are going to see that the wages and extra days of paid leave is going to be beneficial to them. Sometimes you can’t accomplish everything, so you come back next time,” he added.

President of BLET Dennis Pierce also spoke in favor of the current agreement. 

“Once our membership understands where we sit and what’s in it, I think it’ll ratify,” Pierce said.

The Biden administration also commented in favor of the agreement after it had been tentatively accepted. The discussions were mediated in part by Marty Walsh, labor secretary for the Biden administration, who stated that the agreement “balances the needs of workers, businesses and our nation’s economy.” 

“It is a validation of what I’ve always believed; unions and management can work together, can work together for the benefit of everyone,” Biden added.

“Railroad employees feel they have a strong hand to play now, and they’re playing it. They have been worked to the bone for the last two years trying to deal with Covid and its aftershocks,” said Zac Rogers, assistant professor of operations and supply chain management at Colorado State University.

The tentative agreement between the management and unions of the railroad industry have temporarily prevented a strike. The leaders of all the involved parties seem hopeful that ratification of the proposed agreement will put the matter to rest soon, and that all will benefit.