Railroad union rejects Biden-brokered labor deal, raises strike prospects

On Monday, unions representing nearly 12,000 railroad workers voted down a White House-brokered tentative contract agreement between Freight Railroad and all 12 of its unions.

Why it matters: The refusal of the Truckers’ Brotherhood of Road Maintenance (BMWED) has reignited the prospect of a national rail strike. That would be devastating for the economy and could come during the holiday season — a political headache for a Biden administration.

  • Tony Cardwell, president of BMWED, said in a statement: “Railroad workers do not feel valued. They are unhappy with the fact that management does not consider their quality of life, and they are stubbornly reluctant to provide More paid time off, especially when sick, speaks for them.” .
  • Rejection is a ‘big problem’, union officials Tell Axios. If the parties fail to reach a deal, there could be a strike that other unions would respect — or Congress could step in.

reaction: In a statement, the National Carriers Conference Committee, a group that bargains on behalf of trucking companies, said it was “disappointed” but noted that nothing had changed. “Failed approvals do not present an immediate risk of service disruption,” it said.

  • White House spokeswoman Robyn Patterson told Axios in an email that President Biden “remains focused on avoiding a railroad shutdown, and both sides have indicated they have the same desire.”
  • Patterson added: “We stand ready to support both parties’ efforts and continue to urge both parties to get the job done and avoid even the threat of a shutdown in the future.”

Game status: There are 12 unions representing some 115,000 workers. Four other unions have ratified the deal, and in the next month or so, seven more will vote.

  • Insiders told Axios that the deal gave employees a big pay rise – after nearly three years without a raise – but did not adequately address many workers’ concerns about workplace conditions.
  • The two largest unions representing conductors and engineers – about half of the railroad’s total workforce – won’t close the ballot until Nov. 17.
  • Further back and forth are not uncommon. Last year, John Deere union members voted twice against a pay-raise contract they deemed insufficient, finally approving one in mid-November. They also went on strike for a while.

Between the lines: From a business standpoint, the best-case scenario is that the deal closes and higher wages attract new hires — crucial for an industry facing shortages, Wall Street analysts said.

  • If unions vote against the deal, it could be left to the lame-duck Congress to step in. That would give Democrats more cover to force workers to make a deal, Bascome Majors, a railroad analyst at Susquehanna, wrote in a recent report.

What are they talking about: Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART, the largest union with 37,000 members, said the initial deal fell short of his expectations.

  • He added in a separate statement: “I am not selling members on this tentative agreement. It is my responsibility and obligation to provide you with factual information to allow you to make an informed choice.”

at the same time, The most outspoken workers say they don’t like the deal – but it’s unclear if they’re in the majority.

  • “It’s horrible,” a Nevada freight conductor and union member told Axios Protocol. He asked Axios to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from his employer.
  • He encouraged colleagues to vote against the provisional agreement.
  • On a Zoom call hosted by Railroad Workers United — an intimate group of all union members — workers said they disliked the agreement’s provisions on sick leave, were concerned about changes in how schedules are managed, and said health insurance costs The New Deal is too high. Many said they would not vote.

What to watch: Upcoming polls.

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