NEWARK, N.J. — NJ Transit engineers have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has announced.
The union said in a Thursday press release that 81% of those eligible to vote returned their ballots, and 100% of those ballots supported a strike authorization. The exact breakdown: 494 members were eligible, 399 returned ballots, 397 voted for strike authorization, and two ballots were ruled void.
“NJT’s locomotive engineers have spoken loud and clear,” BLET National President Eddie Hall said. “Our members at NJT are furious that the agency has millions for penthouse views, but not a dime for train crews who kept the trains running throughout the worst days of the pandemic and haven’t had a raise since 2019.” (NJ Transit recently signed a $440 million lease for new office space.)
The relationship between the union and NJ Transit has become extremely contentious. The agency gained a $50,000 settlement from the BLET over a 2022 sick-out [see “NJ Transit, BLET reach settlement …,” Trains News Wire, June 16, 2023], but had a lawsuit against the BLET thrown out earlier this month. That suit contended the union planned to walk out on Labor Day, once the strike vote was completed; the union on Thursday called that “a frivolous and failed attempt to block our vote count and strip us of our rights.”
The union is seeking wages closer to those of engineers at other commuter railroads, and says only one transit agency has lower engineer wages than those at NJ Transit. The transit agency has noted that it has reached agreement with the other 14 of its 15 rail unions, covering 91% of its union rail employees.
Even with the strike authorization, a strike is not yet at hand. NJ Transit and the union have been in mediation sponsored by the National Mediation Board for almost three years; the next step toward a strike could not begin until the parties are released from mediation. At that point, it could still be up to 270 days before a strike could start under the byzantine processes of the Railway Labor Act as they specifically pertain to commuter railroads. Following the end of mediation, a 30-day cooling-off period would follow. At the end of that period, one of the parties could request a Presidential Emergency Board, which would have 120 days to resolve the situation. If that failed, a second Presidential Emergency Board could have another 120 days to try to reach a resolution. Only then would all pre-strike activity be exhausted, with the parties reaching the “self-help” point where a strike or lockout is possible.
“We would prefer to reach a voluntary settlement,” Hall said, “but make no mistake, with this vote the clock is now ticking. As soon as it is lawful for us to act, we will.”
The last NJ Transit strike was a 34-day walkout in 1983.
— Updated at 9:45 a.m. CDT with clarification of pre-strike processes.