Three more railroad unions reach labor deals
January 09, 2012 - LM Editorial
The once tenuous situation regarding a potential railroad strike received more good news last week, when the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), a concern representing more than 30 railroads, including the five United States-based Class Is, in national bargaining with the 13 major rail unions comprised of 132,000 employees, said that three more railroad unions have ratified new contracts with the Class Is.
These unions include the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The NRLC said these three unions cumulatively represent roughly 33,170 employees in collective bargaining, adding that negotiations between these unions and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, the railroads’ bargaining representative, had been ongoing since January 2010.
In early December, the NRLC said that that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the American Train Dispatchers Association reached tentative agreements with the railroads. These two unions represent 26,500 employees.
The sole union without a deal of any kind in place is the Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees (BMWE). The BMWE, though, extended its “cooling off period” with the railroads to February 8, 2012 in December.
In early November, a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) offered recommendations on contract terms for the two sides to resolve their disagreements. These recommendations included:
a five-year package of wage increases for a total of 15.6 percent, plus a 1 percent lump-sum signing bonus along with proposing that each union have the right to sign off on an additional 3 percent pay raise, effective January 1, 2015;
moving towards a restructured health and welfare plan reducing the cost of insurance for employees; and
- freezing employee health insurance contributions at the current level of $200 per month until July 1, 2016.
The NRLC said last week that these agreements implemented PEB recommendations and brings the number of ratified contracts to seven, which accounts for about 90,000 employees.
As LM previously reported, matching legislation in December from both the House and Senate under the guidance of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), respectively, proposed to implement the recommendations of the PEB as a final agreement for the three rail unions that had not reached agreements with the railroads prior to yesterday’s developments.
Prior to these agreements, shipper groups were for these issues to be resolved in order to avoid a strike, which could have a severe impact on freight transportation.
In a letter to House all members of Congress on November 23, National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) President and CEO Bruce Carlton said that if the remaining unions do not reach an accord with management and a strike or similar job action is called, America’s freight rail system will shut down, including passenger rail systems that use freight rail track, adding that such a result would have a devastating impact on the economy and businesses of all sizes and hinder the economic recovery. Carlton also noted in the letter that economists have estimated the impact of a national rail strike at $2 billion per day.
Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Ed Hamberger said in November that if a strike were to occur, Congress under the power of the Railway Labor Act Congress would have the authority to put striking workers back to work almost immediately if it reached that point. A major reason for that is that freight railroading is considered a national defense industry, according to Hamberger.
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