2 other rail freight unions make provisional agreements for new employment contracts

Two other railroad unions signed tentative collective bargaining agreements with US railroads just before Labor Day weekend.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA) both said the labor arrangements were based on recommendations from the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), a three-member independent committee appointed by President Joe Biden that sought to do so Find ways for unions and railroads to settle their differences.

The two unions represent about 6,000 freight workers, according to the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), the group representing Class I railroads in contract negotiations.

So far, five of the 12 railway unions have reached a tentative agreement, representing more than 21,000 workers, according to the NCCC. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) and SMART Mechanical Unions are negotiating as a coalition. SMART stands for International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers.

On Monday, the Transportation Communications Union (TCU)/IAM (International Association of Machinists), the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers announced that they had reached preliminary agreements.

Overall, the unions that have reached agreements represent around 15% of the more than 140,000 workers at the negotiating table.

IBEW said its tentative agreement includes the biggest pay increases in 47 years: a 24 percent overall pay increase — effective July 1, 2020 — over the next five years and a $1,000 annual service recognition bonus.

“I would like to thank the members of IBEW’s rail negotiation team for their hard work and patience in arriving at this agreement,” said IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson in a press release late Thursday. “I also want to acknowledge President Biden and the members of the PEB for their efforts in bringing management and workers together to negotiate a fair contract. It’s been a long and tough process, but we’ve finally reached an agreement that meets more than 70% of our demands, including historic wage increases for our railroad members.

“The rail freight industry is vital to our economy and the men and women who keep it running deserve a fair deal. We didn’t win everything we wanted, but this agreement is a step in the right direction and we commend it [union] Members support it.”

ATDA, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO that represents dispatchers, said its members would receive their ratification budgets in the mail.

“Our members are going through one of the highest periods of inflation our country has ever seen and this agreement provides good wages,” said ATDA President F. Leo McCann in a press release on Friday.

In a press release, NCCC said it “would like to thank the union leadership teams for their professionalism and dedication during the negotiation process.”

Under the Railway Labor Act, the remaining unions could legally hold a walkout or strike after a cooling off period on September 16.

PEB’s recommendations are intended to serve as a starting point for drawing up a final contract, so the end result may differ depending on the negotiations between the parties.

A new labor agreement has been in the works since January 2020, but negotiations have not progressed. A federal arbitration board began negotiations, but released the parties from those efforts earlier this summer. The PEB became involved in the process and held hearings in July and August.

BLET, SMART-TD weigh themselves in a dead end of the negotiations

The preliminary five agreements come as two of the larger unions, the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLET), influence the progress of the negotiations.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce issued a joint statement in response to speculation about Congress’ potential role in treaty negotiations should the impasse continue.

“We know that there are very different opinions among our collective members about what should happen next, and the democratic principles that drive our unions give each member the right to their own opinion,” the statement said. “While current opinions may differ, there are other things that apply to all of us equally. It’s been made clear on our Post Presidential Emergency Board [PEB] Negotiations with the railway companies that they are counting on the help of the federal government if we cannot reach a preliminary agreement and have not yet reached an agreement. … We are asking Congress to stay out of our dispute, and if you do so, we are confident that the railroad companies will abandon their current positions and come to terms with their staff in a way that could be ratified.”

They continued: “We should not blame the unions who have decided to give their members the right to decide their own fate through a ratification vote. As we reach the end of the Railway Labor Law negotiation process, all our contracts will soon be settled in one way or another. … Instead, we will continue to focus our efforts on reaching tentative agreements for our members to consider.”

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