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Unions blast railroads’ embargoes as move to force congressional action

By | September 11, 2022

Heads of SMART-TD, BLET say railroads ‘have no intention of reaching an agreement’

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Logos for BLET, SMART-TD unions

Logos for BLET, SMART-TD unionsLeaders of the two major unions representing train crews have blasted the announcement by railroads that they would begin to embargo hazardous-material and other security-sensitive shipments as “corporate extortion” and “corporate terrorism” designed to force Congress to intervene in the current rail labor dispute.

Jeremy Ferguson, president of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen of the Teamsters Rail Conference, issued their statement Sunday. It follows announcements by the Association of American Railroads and several Class I roads that they would begin to embargo certain shipments, and that other forms of traffic could see disruptions as soon as Tuesday, to prepare for a possible shutdown. [see “Railroads begin embargoes …,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 9, 2022].

The current cooling-off period for negotiations ends at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 16, at which time unions can strike or can be locked out by railroads.

The railroads’ announcement came at the conclusion of three days of bargaining at the National Mediation Board. “It was abundantly clear from our negotiations over the past few days that the railroads show no intentions of reaching an agreement with our unions, but they cannot legally lock out our members until the end of the cooling-off period,” Ferguson and Pierce wrote. “Instead, they are locking out their customers beginning on Monday and further harming the supply chain in an effort to provoke congressional action.

“The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our unions to cave into their contract demands knowing that our members would never accept them. Our unions will not cave into these scare tactics, and Congress must not cave into what can only be described as corporate terrorism.”

Norfolk Southern Chief Marketing Officer Ed Elkins said in his message to customers on Friday that 10 of 12 unions involved in national negotiations have either reached tentative agreements (five have been announced) or are finalizing such agreements. SMART-TD and the BLET are the two holdouts, seeking changes in work rules and working conditions along with wage increases. “As such,” the two union chiefs wrote in a Labor Day statement, “BLET and SMART-TD members are situated differently at this stage of the negotiations than the members of most other rail unions” [see “News report: Labor secretary joins rail negotiation session …,” News Wire, Sept. 8, 2022].

“Our members are being terminated for getting sick or for attending routine medical visits as we crawl our way out of worldwide pandemic,” Ferguson and Pierce wrote Sunday. “No working class American should be treated with this level of harassment in the workplace for simply becoming ill or going to a routine medical visit. Sadly, the Presidential Emergency Board recommendation got it wrong on this issue.” [The board recommended further negotiation on work rules, followed by arbitration.] “As we have said from the day that they were implemented, these policies are destroying the lives of our members, who are the backbone of the railroad industry.”

While a wide variety of industries are calling on Congress to intervene in the labor dispute, the two union presidents are asking the reverse: “These self-appointed titans of industry complain constantly about government regulation and interference — except now when it comes to breaking the backs of their employees. … Congress should stay out of the rail dispute and tell the railroads to do what other business leaders do — sit down and bargain a contract that your employees will accept.”

4 thoughts on “Unions blast railroads’ embargoes as move to force congressional action

  1. Have to some what agree with the unions. The railroads never want anything to do with government when they are making regulations. But now they want them to stop what may be a strike. Like they say you can’t have it both ways.

  2. Agreed you can’t have it both ways, but I doubt Congress will be able to stay out of this if there is significant disruption.

  3. When it comes to Haz-mat shipments, there are already regulations in place regarding it’s movement on the railroads…it makes complete sense to embargo certain traffic that run afoul of those regulations should the railroads be transporting it at the time of a strike.

    If Congress doesn’t want to get involved with railroads and the unions anymore during negotiations, then they should just amend the Railway Labor Act to remove the strike portion after the second 30 cooling off period by changing the law so that the PEB recommendations automatically take affect if no negotiated agreements are reached. That would actually make no one happy, but it would keep Congress out of the resolution process for the most part.

    I’m also tired of train and engine crews whining about family time and quality of life. If you so value your family time, then why did you choose to work in railroading. Almost everyone I work with would love to be away from home for days on end making over 100k a year. It’s almost like those golfers that left the PGS for LIV siting more family time…if you wanted to spend more time with your family, then why choose a profession that has you on the road 75% of the time, 25% is plenty of time to spend with family.

  4. Mr McFarlane Just herd on a news station It’s not the money there worried about. They have no actual days off. The railroads want them on call 24/7 365. The one member said he can’t even take his kid to a ball game because if he doesn’t make a call out he could be fired. So that would mean he doesn’t have 25% of time to spend with his family. Would you work for a company that thinks they own you?

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