IAM ratifies; The rail stop still looms


Written by

Frank N. WilnerCapitol Hill Contributing Editor

It is a point of light that the Railroad Division (District 19) of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) on November 5 became the seventh of 12 unions to ratify amendments to wage, benefits and working rules with most Class I railroads and many smaller ones.

A work stoppage still looms as early as November 19 when two of the 12 railroad unions – the Brotherhood of Teamsters Union Way Maintenance Employees Division (BMWED) and the Brotherhood of Railway Flagmen (BRS) – had previously voted not to ratify. BMWED management has said it will not strike until November 19, while BRS has set a possible strike date of December 4.

Three unions have not yet completed their membership ratification process. Among them are the two largest – the Brotherhood of Locomotive Train Engineers and Officers (BLET) and the Transport Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport Workers International Association (SMART -TD) – who will announce the results of the vote on November 21. (delayed from a previously announced date of November 17). The International Association of Boilermakers and Blacksmiths will announce the results of the vote on November 14th.

“We are confident that this is the best deal for our members,” IAM’s rail division said in a press release announcing 52% approval of the tentative agreement. “District 19 leaders have been working day and night to communicate the benefits of the agreement and what will happen if it is rejected.”

Under pressure from the Biden administration, BMWED and BRS have returned to the negotiating table to try to secure additional concessions from the carriers. In October, however, the railways declared that there would be no more sweeteners. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who inserted himself into the troubled negotiations in September, was quoted Nov. 4: “My goal is to bring these two unions back to the table with business and make it happen.”

Shippers with limited or no freight alternatives to rail have lobbied Congress to impose a legislative settlement ahead of a work stoppage and the closure of the National Railroad.

Such an attempt was attempted in September by Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), but was blocked by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who objected that c was anti-work. A new pre-emption attempt is expected by Burr and Wicker shortly after the November 8 midterm legislative elections. Burr is the Republican lead on the Senate Labor Committee, while Wicker is the Republican lead on the Senate Commerce Committee.

Burr-Wicker’s effort would have imposed non-binding recommendations issued in August by a Biden-appointed Presidential Emergency Board (PRB), which the carriers softened following a mediated 20-hour negotiating session. of Walsh in September. Neither the House nor the Senate, pro-worker Democrats have yet advanced their own legislation to pre-empt a work stoppage. It was Burr-Wicker’s regressive effort that IAM leadership cited as “what would happen” if members voted to reject the post-PEB sweetened tentative agreements.

The presidents of BLET and SMART-TD – Dennis Pierce and Jeremy Ferguson – will host a members-only video town hall on November 9 in which they are also expected to outline the consequences of a “no” vote, although the vote of their members already started. In the voting package mailed to members on October 31, SMART-TD’s Ferguson made his first plea for members to ratify the tentative agreement. Previously, he and Pierce had not approved of the tentative agreements they each negotiated and signed.

Railroad union leaders are increasingly concerned that their friends in Congress, as well as President Biden, will abandon them over fears that a strike-induced, economy-shattering national railroad shutdown, even after on election day, no longer hurts the Biden administration’s backwardness. successfully repaired a broken supply chain and brought retail price inflation under control.

If carriers agreed in the coming days to further sweeten the BMWED and BRS agreements, forcing members of those unions to reverse their ‘no’ votes, the ‘me too’ clauses in all tentative agreements would extend value sweeteners equivalent to union members who have already ratified tentative agreements.

Absent sweetened deals that could allow for voluntary settlements by the 12 railroad unions, a work stoppage is a virtual certainty, absent preventive action from Congress. Even if only one union goes on strike, members of other trades must respect the picket lines; and even if just one railroad is hit, carriers — as they did in 1992 when only CSX was the target — can expect to lock out employees nationwide.

Informal agreements are said to be in place between each of the 12 unions and the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), which represents the railroads, that a work stoppage will not be triggered unless Congress is in session. This agreement could obviously be violated. While Congress returns on Nov. 14, a Thanksgiving break will take place the entire week of Nov. 21.

If preventative legislation doesn’t reach the president’s desk before a work stoppage, there’s no guarantee that Congress will quickly end a strike or lockout because of deep historical political divisions.

Second Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois said last month, “I think it’s naive to think we could quickly come to an agreement to settle this strike. Durbin added on Nov. 4, “I don’t think it’s likely we’ll intervene.” Whether that was meant to warn carriers to sweeten the deal or face a lengthy and costly shutdown remains to be seen. Union members would also be at risk, as union strike funds would quickly run out of money and carrier-funded unemployment benefits paid out under the provisions of the Railways Unemployment Insurance Act. pay much less than actual wages.

In addition to the IAM, the seven of the 12 railroad unions to have ratified tentative agreements are the American Train Dispatchers Association, the Carmen Brotherhood of Railroads, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the National Conference of Firefighters and tankers, the SMART Mechanical Division and the Transportation Communications Union. .

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