By Justin Franz
WASHINGTON — A week after a Presidential Emergency Board issued recommendations on how to resolve the ongoing conflict between America’s Class Is and labor, it appears many railroaders are not happy with the results.
The emergency board recommended a 22 percent pay increase for the nation’s railroaders — more than what the carriers wanted to give but less than what the unions wanted — and passed the buck so to speak on addressing more controversial issues like attendance policies and one-person crews. Those matters, the board argued, should be negotiated at the local level or be left to arbitration. The carriers were quick to praise the board’s recommendations, calling them a “useful basis” to continue talks. But the union officials, or at least those who have made public comments, were less enthusiastic.
“While the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board were a vast improvement over the carriers’ previous proposals, the recommendations do not go far enough to provide our members with the quality of life that they have earned, and that both they and their families deserve,” wrote SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson in a message to members. “Truthfully, your union negotiators feel a level of disappointment with the PEB’s recommendations.”
In his letter to members, Ferguson acknowledged that the pay increase recommended by the board was more than what the carriers wanted to give, but that he believed it wasn’t enough for railroaders who worked tirelessly through the pandemic.
But front-line railroaders were irked by a comment made by the Class I negotiators stating that they believed the railroad’s record profits were the result of “capital investment and (financial) risk” and “not any contributions by labor.” In recent days, some railroaders have shared the quote “Labor Does Not Contribute to Profits – Railroads 2022” on social media.
Relations between the railroads and their employees were already rocky this year — thanks in large part to cuts related to Precision Scheduled Railroading and strict attendance policies — and some believe that quote might have pushed them over the edge. At least one person close to the industry said if it was up to some railroaders, they would walk off the job now. But that can’t happen — at least not yet.
With the release of the Presidential Emergency Board’s report, a 30-day period began where both the carriers and labor were supposed to sit down and continue to negotiate. During that time, the unions can’t go on strike and the railroads can lock employees out. That 30-day period will end in mid-September. If a contract hasn’t been forged, work stoppages could begin. But Congress could — and most likely would — get involved to stop any actions that would cripple the national economy. At this point though it’s hard to say exactly what that action might look like.