INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — By a resounding margin, members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have authorized a strike — a move that could come as soon as Monday, July 18.
The union — which represents more than 57,000 U.S. rail employees — reports 99.5% of its members voted to authorize a strike if such an action becomes legal and “necessary to secure a contract worthy of their consideration,” BLET National President Dennis Pierce said in a statement issued Tuesday. It was the union’s first nationwide strike vote since 2011.
Railroads “used and continue to use their economic strength to steamroll their employees, their customers and the nation, all for the sake of their bottom line, and it is clear that they have no intentions of changing,” said Pierce, who also asserted that in the third year of the national contract negotiation process, “the rail carriers have never made a contract proposal to our union that their employees, our members, would accept.”
Unions and railroads are currently in a 30-day cooling-off period mandated under the Railway Labor Act that began after the two sides failed to reach an agreement in talks before the National Mediation Board, and unions turned down an offer of binding arbitration.
The cooling off period ends July 18, at which point the union could legally strike — unless, before that date, President Joe Biden names a Presidential Emergency Board to investigate the dispute and make recommendations for a settlement. That would block a work stoppage for another 60 days — 30 days while the board investigates and makes its report, and 30 days after the report issued.
The National Railway Labor Conference, the association which includes the railroads’ bargaining group, has said on its website that it expects such a board to be named, and business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have asked Biden to intervene. “It is imperative that the administration act to prevent any disruption to America’s rail service,” Chamber CEO Suzanne Clark said in a letter to Biden earlier this month.
In his statement, BLET’s Pierce said carriers “hide behind the provisions of the Railway Labor Act to save them from having to treat their employees fairly. … rest assured our Brotherhood is now prepared to take the next steps in the process, as we fight to reach a contract settlement that our members will accept.”