Union Backtracks in Agreeing to ‘Stronger’ Railroad Deal

Date: Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Source: Sourcing Journal

Railroads and a machinists union have reached terms on a new tentative deal Tuesday just days before a negotiation extension was set to expire.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) now has a revised tentative deal with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the railroads in contract talks, to put before its members for consideration.

IAM represents about 4,900 machinists, mechanics and maintenance workers for locomotives, track equipment and facilities.

The union touted it to members Tuesday as a “new, stronger tentative agreement.” The latest deal extends a cooling off period that prohibits a strike or lockout until Dec. 9.

IAM was the first of the dozen unions involved in negotiations to reject the initial agreement struck by its leadership and approve a strike earlier this month. The union said at the time it would look to obtain a “fair contract” as it went back to the negotiating table.

“Today, we are proud to report that after another round of tough negotiations, we have reached an improved tentative agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee,” IAM said in a statement Tuesday.

The agreement adds a provision capping monthly healthcare costs at $398.97, requires railroads to pay for workers’ lodging during business travel and includes a study of overtime. Employers also agreed to further negotiations on travel expenses and per diem pay within 60 days, if members approve the contract.

A 24 percent boost to pay over the five-year contract term and $5,000 in bonuses, are components that remained from the initial agreement.

The amended contract will now go before members for a vote.

So far, two unions, the Transportation Communications Union/IAM (TCU/IAM) and Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), have ratified their contracts. The two groups comprise more than 11,000 workers.

The current collective bargaining process, which has been ongoing for nearly three years, involves 115,000 workers total.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) said Tuesday its board agreed in a resolution to send its tentative agreement with railroads to members for a vote.

BLET, one of the larger unions in the collective bargaining process, had been one of the remaining groups to strike last-minute deals with employers just ahead of a strike that would have begun Sept. 16.

The railroads had been readying for a work stoppage earlier this month by embargoing hazardous and time-sensitive shipments, as remaining unions continued negotiations. Once those tentative deals were struck, the country averted a national rail shutdown.

The possibility of a strike remains should workers vote against the contracts before them and Congress chooses not to intervene, with the latter not being the case historically.

Attendance policies and whether workers are docked by employers for absences for medical reasons were part of the hold-up in securing the final agreements.

The BLET board’s resolution said it was able to include additional stipulations related to “working conditions” within the tentative deal. The union had earlier touted a provision in the contract that would shield workers from being penalized under attendance policies for taking time off for certain medical reasons, calling it out as a first for such contract language.

Unions and employers had used recommendations made by a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), established by the president in the summer, as a basis for the most recent round of negotiations. Some unions had initially expressed disappointment with the board recommendations, however.

A group of workers called for informational picketing last week to highlight demands related to sick pay, staffing levels and healthcare costs among other things. The actions were not approved by any one union and included workers from West Virginia, Oregon, North Dakota and Chicago among other places.

“Folks are extremely frustrated and if Congress does not intervene and juice up the PEB’s recommendation, the danger for the American public and the shipping industry is there’s not enough people out there to do the work,” a worker that was part of the group organizing the pickets told Sourcing Journal last week. “So if Congress is going to do the right thing, they’re going to get this super profitable group of railroads to compensate their workforce.”


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