By Justin Franz
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — While one labor issue faded into the background, another one with the potential to bring the nation’s rail network to a halt next week emerged.
On Tuesday morning, VIA Rail Canada announced that it had struck a deal with the unions that represent more than 2,000 maintenance workers, on-board service personnel, chefs, sales agents and customer service staff at the passenger railroad. The unions had issued a strike notice on July 7 and were preparing to walk off the job on Monday morning. But when that deadline approached, both sides announced they were making progress and they pushed the strike deadline back throughout the day Monday. Finally, early yesterday morning, VIA announced a breakthrough. The new contract still needs to be approved by union members.
Meanwhile, in the United States, an overwhelming majority of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen — 99.5 percent, to be exact — voted to walk off the job next week in a major strike that would potentially cripple the rail network. The vote, which was announced on Tuesday, comes as President Joe Biden considers appointing an emergency board to sort out the differences between labor and six of the Class Is, which have been trying to hash out a new nationwide contract for three years. If Biden doesn’t appoint an emergency board in the coming days, then BLET members could legally walk off the job at all five U.S. Class Is, plus Canadian National’s U.S. operations next week (Canadian Pacific is not part of these talks). In a message to members and the public, BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce blamed the adoption of Precision Scheduled Railroading and related cuts for the railroads’ “toxic” work environment.
“The BLET members who voted to strike this week have worked for incredibly profitable railroads for over three years without a wage increase. They were considered essential workers during the height of the pandemic, forced to work day in and day out or be fired, with no financial recognition for doing so,” Pierce wrote.