By Justin Franz
WASHINGTON — A national labor strike or lockout was again on the table this week after the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division voted against a contract its leadership had forged with the Class Is last month.
A record 11,845 members cast ballots, with 6,646 voting against and 5,100 voting in favor. The rejection of the agreement results in a “status quo” period where the BMWED will reengage in bargaining with the Class Is (all five U.S. roads, plus Canadian National’s U.S. operations). That status quo period will last until November 19, at which point “self-help” — either a strike or a lockout — could occur.
Union leadership wrote in a press release that they understood their member’s frustrations with the situation.
“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result,” President Tony D. Cardwell said. “I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employers 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.”
If a resolution is not found before November 19 and the MOW employees go on strike, it’s likely to have a ripple effect with other unions following suit.
Last month, the Class Is forged tentative agreements with a number of unions preventing a shutdown of the vast majority of the nation’s rail network. According to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, the new contract includes pay increases and, perhaps most importantly for the members, “contract language exempting time off for certain medical events from carrier attendance policies.” But in recent weeks, there have been rumblings that card-carrying members are not impressed with the contract, specifically language that restricts when they can actually take time off for appointments. Members of the BLET and SMART Transportation Division have yet to vote on the new contract.