News & Reviews News Wire Freight railroad strike averted thanks to tentative contract agreements (continuing updates)

Freight railroad strike averted thanks to tentative contract agreements (continuing updates)

By Bill Stephens | September 15, 2022

White House announced deal this morning after overnight negotiations led to agreements with unions representing engineers, conductors, and signalmen

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Men holding picket signs
Railroad employees picket outside the North American Rail Shippers conference in Kansas City on May 10, 2022.  David Lassen

WASHINGTON — The first freight railroad strike in three decades has been averted under a tentative deal reached overnight between Class I railroads and three labor unions, the White House announced early Thursday morning.

The Class I railroads reached tentative agreements with unions representing engineers, conductors, and signalmen after 20 hours of negotiations at the Department of Labor. The nine other unions involved in negotiations had previously reached tentative agreements with the railroads, although one had voted down its deal.

The deal includes an extended cooling-off period that puts off the prospect of a strike that could have begun as early as 12:01 a.m. on Friday. A strike would have crippled the U.S. freight railroad network and shut down Amtrak operations outside of the Northeast Corridor, as well as suspended commuter operations in several cities.

The Association of American Railroads says the contract will provide engineers, conductors, and signal workers with a 24% wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, including an immediate payout on average of $11,000 upon ratification. The contract follows the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board that was convened after railroads and labor were unable to reach a negotiated settlement.

The unions said they were able to get concessions from the railroads on attendance policies and two-person crews, both of which were major sticking points in the contract negotiations that began in January 2020.

All tentative agreements are subject to ratification by the unions’ membership.

The White House praised the deal.

“The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people,” President Joe Biden said. “It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years. These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned. The agreement is also a victory for railway companies who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come.”

Biden made “a crucial call” last night to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and the negotiators representing railroad unions and companies, NBC News reported.

The White House and the AAR thanked Walsh, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for their work to help broker a deal with the assistance of the National Mediation Board.

Contract negotiations with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART-TD union had bogged down over two key issues: working conditions and changes to crew size.

Rail labor sought changes to railroad attendance policies they view as draconian, while railroads want the ability to shift conductors to a ground-based position. The Presidential Emergency Board recommended that the unions and railroads negotiate local settlements on work rules and crew consists.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the BLET and SMART-TD unions said the tentative agreement would provide railroaders with the largest wage increases in more than 45 years while holding the line on insurance costs and copays and addressing scheduling issues.

The deal also includes provisions for time off and takes the crew consist issue off the table.

“For the first time, our unions were able to obtain negotiated contract language exempting time off for certain medical events from carrier attendance policies. Our unions will now begin the process of submitting the tentative agreement to a vote by the memberships of both unions,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce said.

They thanked the rank and file for showing solidarity throughout the bargaining process, which “made the difference in our obtaining an agreement with provisions that exceeded the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board.”

The agreement, the union leaders said, includes provisions that will create voluntary assigned days off for road train crews, plus an additional paid day off.

“Most importantly, for the first time ever, the agreement provides our members with the ability to take time away from work to attend routine and preventative medical, as well as exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgical procedures,” Ferguson and Pierce said.

SMART-TD said it was able to block the railroads’ attempts to fast-track arbitration on crew consist agreements, which the union leaders said would protect two-person crews for the indefinite future.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District 19, which announced Wednesday that that it had voted down its tentative agreement [see “Machinists reject tentative contract …,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 14] said it is working to return to the bargaining table with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, the organization representing the railroads, “to negotiate an agreement worthy of our members’ ratification,” and to understand the tentative agreements reached today. In voting down their agreement, union members approved a strike but delayed it until Sept. 29 to allow bargaining by other unions to continue.

Amtrak, which had announced cancellation of all long-distance trains as of today in anticipation of a work stoppage, said this morning it is “working to quickly restore canceled trains and reaching out to impacted customers to accommodate on first available departures.”

— Updated at 6:36 a.m. CDT with Amtrak statement; updated at 7:46 a.m. CT with contract details from union leaders; updated at 12:13 p.m. CDT with statement from machinists’ union.

This is a developing situation. Follow Trains News Wire for more information as it becomes available.

29 thoughts on “Freight railroad strike averted thanks to tentative contract agreements (continuing updates)

  1. There has been rather some loose talk about Wall Street. The days of the Robber Barons was well over 100 years ago. Today we have Robber Pension Funds calling the tune on the Street. Yes, some union pension funds too, and not just greedy government pension funds like CALPERS which is from NewsomeLand (CA). Stock buybacks are a pension-fund specialty. Insurance outfits are in there too to provide the payments to policyholders for medical costs, orphan and widow benefits; but the insurance outfits are fading slowly. Eventually America will be like one vast Soviet Union with everyone in a government-run labor union (via card-check and forged signatures) with Uncle Joe The American Stalin sending out his Woke Thought Police to keep us all in line. (Surprisingly, TRAINS isn’t Woke–Yet!)
    Back to the Pension Funds. All they want are payouts: buybacks mostly–dividends second. CALPERS or TIAA-CREF is the image you should have in mind when thinking of “Wall Street”, not J P Morgan or the Van Swearingens. Uncle Joe wants you to think in 1930’s terms. To keep up those payouts to pension funds Precision Scheduled Railroading has to rule.
    Now I gotta go see in the market’s crashing again. For such a great Maximum Leader as Uncle Joe things don’t seem to really be going that well.

    1. Precision Scheduled Railroading lives! As in running fewer, longer, slower trains. Fewer trains out there. Might as well go to operas and live theater instead–if you can find them!

  2. So name calling from the Right is just in good humor but when the Left does its in bad taste? Sounds familiar to Rights version of an election – If left wins its fixed if the Right wins it fair..I see.

    1. Galen – has a Democrat ever made a mistake, made a bad decision, created unintended consequences or simply screwed up? From your responses I’m guessing you wouldn’t recognize if they did and subscribe fully to the, “it’s somebody else’s fault” drivel constantly broadcast by D’s. And yes, this country is in a recession.

  3. I can’t honestly believe that railroaders go to the Dr. for routine and preventive medical examinations, that’s just a complete waste of time, unless you are so out of tune with your own body that you have to have someone else tell you if you’re physically fine or not. The only time I go is when I’m sick with something I know I need medication for, or it lingers for more than 2 weeks. Heck I don’t even see my neurologist for my epilepsy unless he insists to refill my prescription(the same one I’ve been taking for the past 30+ years).

  4. Reading comment sections in the various news sites I follow, I’m always amazed that Democrats (or lefties, or commies, or all three) know exactly what Trump thinks or what Republican voters like me believe. Always in the extreme negative, and in many cases invalid.

    Fact is, we don’t know how the Trump administration would have dealt with this issue, as there is nothing to go on.

    Nor do we know what role Biden’s administration (Pete Buttigieg, Marty Walsh) played in this negotiation. It could be that the Biden people played a major and constructive and highly competent role in labor mediation. Or it could be that the parties (rail corporations and rail unions) came to agreement largely on their own. Or the truth may lie somewhere in between, as is often the case. We don’t know at this point and may never know.

    So, before you laud Biden or before you smear Trump, have some humility.

    1. Oh, and BTW, as things are now at this time of history, there is no longer such a thing as the “union vote”. It varies tremendously. Do union voters vote Republican? Depends on the union. Close to zero in the Teachers Union, close to zero in the unionized service workers (hotel and commercial cleaners and other low-paid jobs), considerable in police and fire unions, a measurable minority in unions like teamsters and auto workers, and if I had to guess, somewhere around fifty-fifty in the various rail unions.

      Whatever the numbers, let’s all come together and agree on this: union leadership tends to lean further left than union members. For example, I’m sure most service workers union members, and most public school teachers, lean liberal/ Democratic, but not to the extent of the extreme leftist union leadership that purports to speak for them.

    2. Atta Boy Steve. The classic response from someone who has no valid point to make – name calling and deflection. Charles at least has a sense of humor. No so much with your crowd. But hey, if I voted for Biden I too would likely try my best to deflect away from my mistake.

  5. Trump lost the popular vote & won the electoral college. Would he have the follow through to head off this strike? Lets see Covid response? We don’t even want to go there, Healthcare, nope scratch that, Infrastructure? never materialized. Oil prices had/have nothing to do with who’s President the oil co.s were making up for all the loses during Covid its called Capitalism! The bulk of the Biden Infrastructure bill is going to Hwys due to the fact that drivers didn’t want to pay the rising cost of driving when at the pump for the last 25 yrs! As for the last point..deflection from this topic.

  6. Try to imagine how Trump would have managed this. Did he ever handle anything in a tempered, business like way? For sure, he would have supported business positions. Contingency plans, compromise, professionalism, and leadership. This is how our country is SUPPOSED to function. The McConnells and McCarthys and Cottons and Taylor-Greenes gnash their teeth with resentment, the Biden Administration scores another big win for competent government. It’s getting easier every day to vote for Democrats.

    1. Mathew,
      I’m going to disagree with you. You forget that, whatever Trump’s faults, his political base was the blue collar workers that helped get him elected. I believe he also would have leaned on the RR’s to compromise on the attendance policies–maybe sooner than Biden. He also would not have gone after the fossil fuel industries and not allowed all the Federal spending which together have resulted in the country’s financial situation being in the poor shape it is today. As for competency, he certainly would have secured the border so the flow of drugs and people didn’t take off as it has done under Biden.

    2. That President got elected by doing what he has always done, bulls@$$&$d everyone. Even his own personal staff. Look at Rudy Giuliani or Steve Bannon.

    3. Joe does the same thing–only worse. The Woke Crowd are his puppet-masters. Changing “genders”, “Black” Lives Matter”, Palladium-plating AMTK with $1.2 BILLION for the Portal Bridge alone.

    1. Joe’s stooges on some labor board moved it up by two months–this mess should have happened in November. I’m more worried about forged signatures to union cars under Card Check and the proposed PRO-Act; I’ve told my employer if some union does a “card-check” takeover to “represent” our outfit I’m taking immediate retirement!
      Joe is desperate for votes.

  7. Although I’m not for government regulation, I firmly believe based on comments from railroaders on this site it seems to me it’s high time working conditions (hours of work) to be reviewed and legislated to more reflect what those conditions are in other industries.
    Let’s face it, these attendance policies

    1. Thumb hit sent,
      Let’s face it, these attendance policies have one purpose, to save the railways money of which they are awash in simply to appease Wall Street.

    1. We’ll neeed to await details. As complicated as that issue is, Steve, we have to wonder if it’s fully resolved or if it’s only sent to a study panel for further negotiations.

    2. Union members still need to vote. Any issues such as attendance if not addressed could “de-rail” the Dept of Labor’s premature victory lap.

    3. TRUE. Also, the Future of “Precision” “Scheduled” “Railroading”. (Stop snickering!) As in running fewer, longer, slower trains as seen on CSX.

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