News & Reviews News Wire Maintenance of way employees reject national contract with Class I railroads

Maintenance of way employees reject national contract with Class I railroads

By Bill Stephens | October 10, 2022

Two sides to head back to the bargaining table

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NOVI, Mich. – Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees union have rejected the tentative national agreement that was reached last month with the U.S. Class I railroads.

Some 56% of the rank and file voted against the contract, the union announced on Monday. Union leaders and the National Carriers Conference Committee that represents the railroads will go back to the bargaining table with the clock ticking toward a Nov. 19 deadline.

BMWEDlogo“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result,” President Tony D. Cardwell said in a statement. “I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued. They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness. The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

Some 11,845 BMWED members submitted ballots, with 6,646 against ratification and 5,100 approving the tentative agreement. Ninety-nine remaining ballots were submitted blank or voided for some other user error.

The tentative agreement offered 24% wage increases over the life of the five-year contract, retroactive to 2020. It also called for improvements to travel allowances for maintenance of way employees.

“The membership voted in record numbers on this tentative agreement, exhibiting that they are paying close attention and are engaged in the process,” Cardwell said. “BMWED members are concerned with the direction of their employers and the mismanagement and greed in which they have consistently implemented, and are united in their resolve to improve their working conditions across the entire Class I rail network.”

The rejection of the tentative agreement results in a “status quo” period where the BMWED will re-engage bargaining with the Class I freight railroads. That status quo period will extend to five days after Congress reconvenes, which is currently set for Nov. 14. Assuming Congress returns to session on the 14th there could be no “self help” until after Nov. 19, the union said.

Four unions have ratified their agreements with the railroads, while seven others are voting or preparing to vote.

12 thoughts on “Maintenance of way employees reject national contract with Class I railroads

  1. I was a contract computer programmer.
    Spent a year in a place that was 85% union.
    Hostility abounded; definitely “us vs. them.”
    Now, bad management usually means unions and really bad management brings union problems (see Guilford).
    Something to ponder: IBM has always had a significant manufacturing force and trust me, monitoring chip robots is not skilled work.
    Never had a union.
    Railroads have to stop seeing their workers as “the enemy.”
    Unions have to stop acting like the enemy.
    Treated the employees as adults.

  2. From what I read and hear the railroads attitude on labor is “you will work or else”. Else being—you are fired. For that reason I have backed labor on this one and will continue to do so. And I urge then not to give in on days off.
    The railroads really don’t have anyone to “keep ’em rolling” as they used to in strikes. Railroads don’t have the ability to get new hires immediately involved either.
    There could not be a better position for labor than this time. USE IT.

  3. I hate to bring up politics, but the elephant in the room here is whether Congress will intervene and enforce (or at least try to enforce) a contract. I think some of the dates and details make a lot of sense when viewed in this context.

    While the political leaning of Congress may have an impact in the short run, I can’t help but think the industry is shooting itself in the foot in the long run with the work schedules. I looked very seriously at a railroad career but ended up trucking for 10 years since the company I worked for got me home every day–I’ve since moved on from that to other pursuits. I can’t be the only one who passed on a railroad career for similar reasons. More flexible scheduling would hurt operations in the short term but would vastly open up the candidate pool for all open positions.

  4. The beatings will continue until moral improves. I don’t work in the industry and don’t understand all the issues but from what I have seen and heard management treats employees like dirt and then complains that they can’t find people to do the work that needs to be done. Add to the concept of cutting costs to improve the bottom line so the C level execs can get big bonuses and you have a recipe for failure.

  5. “The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

    I’m glad they put that last part in. Not that Management is benevolent or anything, but the stranglehold the coke-snorting yuppies on Wall street have on Management is, IMHO, the root cause of all these post-pandemic “issues”.

  6. Does not sound good. It seems unlikely management will be able to substitute for MoW workers – it is hot, cold, wet, windy, dangerous and physically hard to work on the line, and you need to know what you are doing, it is not just unskilled labor.

    Maybe they could keep up with inspections, for a while.

    Railroads often use contractors for projects, derailments, etc. but I doubt there are enough of these (that would be willing to take over MoW work normally done by striking workers) to keep the lines open for very long.

    On the one hand 24% retroactive and other aspects sound pretty good, but if they can’t get decent shifts or time off, maybe not enough.

    1. 24% sounds like a lot until you realize that we haven’t gotten a raise since 2018 and it’sspread out over 5 years. Also the rates don’t keep up with inflation and Healthcare costs are going up.

    2. No raise will EVER keep up with inflation, that’s just economically impossible and actually leads to higher inflation, that’s just a fact of economics. Don’t cry as if you’re the only people not to have raises since 2018 or that your Healthcare costs are going up…everyone’s Healthcare costs are going up, and a lot of people don’t get raises on an annual basis. Also, you seem to forget that 24% spread out over 5 years is retroactive to 2020…so a big chunk of that will be immediate. Furthermore, I can see the manufacturers of MoW equipment investigating more and more into using AI and automation to operate the equipment, reducing the amount of workforce needed to do actual MoW work…that’s something that most workers don’t seem to keep in mind, if employers actually started replacing workers with automation instead of just talking about it. The time off thing is really a bunch of BS, people spend way to much time going to the Dr. or taking time off for unnecessary reasons(I’ve known people to call off work for a common cold).

    3. You’ve known RAILROADERS to “call off” (lay off, Gerald) for a common cold? Tell me, what is your rail employment history and where did you work and with whom? I have some and I don’t recall any laying off for colds. We’re rails, we don’t get sick, we just lay off to screw around, like playing golf and watching TV.

    4. That is a good point about future developments that don’t require the level of manpower. Its already happened with the railroads, manufacturing, and in agriculture. Quite frankly, it currently has to happen in order for an industry to survive in this day and age.

      I’m not qualified to comment on the railroads’ healthcare problems. For what its worth, I can say the largest increase in my employer’s healthcare costs was due to our increased hiring of females. I served on a committee that was charged to look into the health expenses and see what we could do to minimize the annual increase in healthcare costs. We came up with a few ideas that saved some dollars but they were insignificant compared to the fact that the females annually took off over twice the sick days than the males. I’m guessing the railroads don’t have this problem due to the work force being mainly male.

      Another possible area of savings would be something like some of our local school districts finally got into their recent NEA union teacher contracts. Basically, it requires the spouses of the teachers to use their employers’ health insurance first and only then can they use the school districts’ insurances. The reasoning behind this was the schools’ insurance was definitely better than most other insurances. I don’t know if that would be true for the RR’s but it might be worth looking at as a place to compromise.

    5. Why do you even read these articles? All you do is call railroaders lazy entitled babies. Just because you obviously hate your job doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make ours better. Kindly blank off.

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