A Split Decision: BLET Ratifies Class I Contract, SMART Rejects It

The vote by members of SMART Transportation Division sets off a brief cooling-off period before a possible strike or lockout on December 9. Photo by Justin Franz. 

A Split Decision: BLET Ratifies Class I Contract, SMART Rejects It

By Justin Franz 

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Members of the nation’s largest operating craft unions have opted to go in different directions on a new national labor agreement with six of the seven Class Is. On Monday, it was announced that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen voted in favor of the agreement (53.5% for and 46.5% against), while a slight majority of SMART Transportation Division members (50.87%) voted against the contract. 

That vote will set off a brief “cooling-off” period where SMART-TD leadership will join three other unions that rejected the agreement in hopes of forging a new deal before December 8. If no deal is struck by then, the railroaders could go on strike or management could lock them out — either action could result in a shutdown of the nation’s freight rail network right before the holidays. 

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson was hopeful that it wouldn’t come to a strike.

“SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members,” Ferguson said. “This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.” 

Meanwhile, the freight railroads said they were ready to talk to the unions that rejected the contract, but that they would only be making deals within the framework of the Presidential Emergency Board recommendations from earlier this year. 

“Today, the BLET joined the majority of our unions in approving the largest wage increases in nearly five decades and also paved a path toward greater scheduling predictability for its members,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “Railroads stand ready to reach new deals based upon the PEB framework with our remaining unions, but the window continues to narrow as deadlines rapidly approach. Let’s be clear, if the remaining unions do not accept an agreement, Congress should be prepared to act and avoid a disastrous $2 billion a day hit to our economy.”

Not all SMART-TD members rejected the contract. Yardmasters represented by the union voted in favor of the deal. 

In September, the nation’s freight rail network was just hours away from a strike or lockout. However, at the 11th hour, federal officials helped negotiate a Tentative Agreement that included pay raises. But in the days and weeks since, it appears many railroaders are not happy with it because it doesn’t do enough to address concerns about work-life balance. 

If there is a strike by SMART-TD or any of the other three rail unions that have rejected proposed contracts with the carriers, BLET and the other eight rail unions that have ratified agreements have pledged to lawfully honor their picket lines. 

“We stood shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in SMART-TD and others in rail labor throughout this process, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with them as we approach the finish line in this round of negotiations,” said BLET President Dennis Pierce.

This article was posted on: November 21, 2022