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Supply Chain News: Rail Strike this Looms this Week as Major Union Says Contract Provisions not Enough to Gain Rank and File Support


Pay Issues Largely OK, but Lifestyle Measure not Adequately Addressed Union Exec Says

Sept. 13, 2022

As we reported last week, despite the approval of leadership at then 5 but now 8 of the unions representing rail workers in negotiations with carriers, support of the rank and file was far from certain. And that with seven unions without a leadership-backed deal.

Surpply Chain Digest Says...


Under Federal law, Congress can impose a contract on rail carriers and the union. Or it can appoint arbitrators to fast-track a new contract.

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All of which we noted could lead to a strike at the end of this week, as a month-long federally ordered  “cooling off” period comes to an end. (See Will Rail Carriers avert a Strike in Less than Two Weeks?)

Two of the 12 unions are said to be adamant that while there is some agreement on basic pay issues, including a 24% raise, other so-called “lifestyle” issues must also move in workers’ favor.

Those two unions - The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division – are major players, together represent about 50% of railroad workers.

“If this contract is presented to our members in its current form, it will not pass,” a labor spokesperson told CNBC. “The workers are angry. They want movement on attendance policies and not be afraid to take a sick day or vacation day without the fear of termination. There will be no ratification unless this is addressed.”

The National Carriers' Conference Committee (NCCC) represents rail carriers in the negotiations. Also involved is the Presidential Emergency Board, created under federal law in July by the Biden administration, and which has served as a sort of mediator between the two sides. The PEB recommended a five-year deal that would cap healthcare premiums, provide cash bonuses and hike rail worker wages by that 24%, largely reflected in the tentative agreements.

All the 12 unions operate under so-called “Me Too” agreements, which means any additional benefits that other unions can capture are added to already ratified or pending deals.

Attendance policies are a particularly hot button issues. For example, CNBC reports that earlier this year 700 union workers quit rail carrier BNSF after the company instituted a points-based attendance system in February. The system was later revised amid strong push back from workers, many of whom said that even with changes the approach created safety issues, with workers pushed too hard.

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With the threat of a strike looming, rail carriers are taking action.

For example, carrier Norfolk Southern sent an alert saying “We have communicated to our customers that we will temporarily halt certain types of shipments beginning September 12. In addition, to safely ramp down our network and enable us to bring service back quickly, certain other customers will see a preliminary curtailment of service before September 16."

Should strikes begin, threatening the movement of rail freight (about 40% of long-distance freight carriage in the US), under Federal law, Congress can impose a contract on rail carriers and the union. Or it can appoint arbitrators to fast-track a new contract.

The question is how long it would take the government to take such steps if a strike does ensue.

Any thoughts on the rail labor talks? Let us know your at the Feedback section below.




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