One of the country’s major rail unions rejected a Biden administration-brokered agreement with railroads on Monday, bringing both sides back to the negotiating table and increasing the prospect of a potentially disastrous strike next month.
According to a BMWED news statement, a record number of members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) participated in the vote, which resulted in a 56% rejection of the agreement. The Biden-sponsored agreement includes a 24% pay increase over the following five years, $5,000 in annual bonuses, and exceptions to the attendance policy for legitimate medical reasons; however, according to BMWED President Tony Cardwell, workers are still concerned about sick leave and working conditions.
“The majority of the BMWED membership did not accept the draft national agreement, and we acknowledge and understand that decision,” Cardwell stated in a news release issued by the BMWED. “BMWED members are worried about their employers’ direction, as well as the mismanagement and greed that they have constantly implemented, and are unified in their determination to better their working conditions across the whole Class I rail network.”
“We are unhappy that members of the BMWED have failed to approve the recent preliminary agreement,” the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) announced Monday. The NRLC continued by outlining the advantages of the agreement, which included travel reimbursements of up to 50% for those workers who had traveling jobs.
Four of the twelve rail unions have so far accepted the agreement, but all 12 will go on strike if any union’s members refuse to accept the terms, according to the AP. The BWMED claimed that if the offer is rejected, the BMWED will resume talks with the railroads and enter a “status quo” period during which unions cannot go on strike until Nov. 19, which is five days after Congress reconvenes.
According to the Association of American Railroads, which represents railway management, a strike could have disastrous effects on the U.S. economy, which depends on railroads to ship vital goods like oil, coal, and chemicals used in fertilizers. These disruptions could cost the country’s economy $2 billion per day. According to the American Trucking Association, approximately 40% of all long-distance trade in the U.S. is conducted through rail, and switching to trucks would require a fleet of roughly 500,000 trucks, which is logistically impossible.
When asked what the BMWED’s managers would consider a fair settlement, Communications Director Clark Ballew stated, “The union’s management team is the BMWED rank and file members, and they declined the tentative agreement.”
The NRLC’s statement was recommended to the DCNF by the American Association of Railroads. The DCNF’s request for comment was not immediately met by the White House or the Department of Labor.