Railroad union votes could force Congress to stop a strike

But the threat of congressional involvement, and especially impending Republican control of the House, could force the hand of the unions. Republicans say they are ready to impose recommendations made in August by a council appointed by President Joe Biden that did not go as far to improve working conditions as the unions wanted. This means unions that have since negotiated better deals could see their gains wiped out.

“Look, what a terrible Christmas gift it would be to give the American people at this point. Just before Christmas, our supply chain shut down,” the rep said. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), the top Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees railroads, told POLITICO. “So we have something prepared if necessary, but hopefully it’s not necessary.”

What happens in the coming weeks will test whether unions have the power to end a lack of paid sick leave and strict attendance policies in the industry.

Democrats are hoping they won’t need to get involved, but are also pushing the railroads to make more concessions to appease rank-and-file union members who are angry at what they say are unfair labor policies. hours and holidays.

‘I hope the railways will become reasonable, we are in the 21st century and it is unconscionable to deny skilled workers sick leave, even unpaid sick leave,’ the chairman of the transport committee said. Pierre DeFazio (Golden.). Freight railroads “watch their record profits, ‘Oh my God, if we give people paid sick leave, our stock could drop a dollar.’ Give me a break,” he said.

When told that House Republicans had a piece of legislation ready, DeFazio hinted that their plan would not win support from Democrats during the lame duck session.

“Oh, good for them, they’re not responsible, so we’ll see,” DeFazio said.

The two unions set to announce their contract ratification votes on Monday are the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Engineers and Locomotive Operators, which collectively represent 50% of the roughly 125,000 freight railroad workers involved.

How we got here

After months of trial and failure to reach an agreement, Biden chose a council of advisers who recommended higher compensation. But the unions rejected those recommendations and instead pushed for a contractual agreement that included wage increases as well as changes to railroad attendance policies.

In September, Biden and Walsh announced a deal that union leaders and the railroads agreed to. This agreement was then submitted to union members for a vote.

So far, three unions representing around 25% of the coalition have rejected the deal. Seven unions voted in favor of ratifying the deal, leaving the two largest unions as the last group to cast their votes.

In October, the third-largest union of the 12 involved voted not to ratify the proposed contract amid unrest among rank-and-file members.

Union leaders tried to convince their members to make a deal, but a cross-union interest umbrella group, Railroad Workers United, campaigned for a no, stoking anger among rank-and-file members. Many are unhappy with the deal, saying it does not do enough to address working conditions that have led to high attrition rates among workers.

Republicans in both houses are more inclined to simply impose the recommendations of Biden’s board, which doesn’t go as far as most unions would like. The review board recommended wage increases but did not weigh in on attendance policies that are a major source of anger among workers.

Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee Roger Osier (R-Miss.) told POLITICO that he and Sen Richard Burer (RN.C.) will push for legislation that would reflect the review panel’s recommendations, saying they are “prepared once again to raise this issue.”

“And we hope there will be a resolution before that. If not, Congress must act,” Wicker said.

Wicker and Burr previously tried to force a Senate vote on a resolution, SJ Res. 61 (117), which sought to impose the recommendations of the review board from September, when it emerged that a strike was just hours away.

“Everyone told us, ‘Once this recommendation comes out, you don’t get anything; either you make it a contract and ratify it, or Congress will impose it,” and [BLET President Dennis] Pierce and I said, ‘Absolutely not. We will go all the way. We will be pushing for more. And we ended up getting a lot more,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson.

But Ferguson also acknowledged that a work stoppage is unlikely to occur because lawmakers in both parties are aware that a strike would be economically and politically crippling. He argued that regardless of the final resolution, unions have made significant progress.

“We got a lot out of it and maybe history won’t immediately reflect that. But 10 years from now, looking back, everyone will be like, ‘Wow, that was a lot,'” Ferguson said. “Everyone always wants more.”

Eleanor Mueller contributed to this report.


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