OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
The prospect of a rail workers strike that could affect commerce nationwide is back as the union has said no to the current offer that was celebrated by President Joe Biden and The White House.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, one of the largest rail workers’ unions in the nation, said no to the deal on Monday, The Washington Post reported.
Members of the third-largest rail union rejected the proposed five-year contract 56 percent to 43 percent, officials said. Both sides have agreed to resume negotiations until at least Nov. 19, and railroads are expected to continue operating normally in the meantime.
President Biden was personally involved in the talks — as were three of his Cabinet secretaries, his top economic adviser and his chief of staff — that led to the deal hammered out last month. He hailed it as a win for both carriers and workers.
But many union members were skeptical from the start, with some telling The Washington Post that the details were opaque. The plan included a 24 percent pay increase by 2024 — bringing the average wage to $110,000 a year — and $1,000 annual bonuses for five years. It also ensured healthcare co-pays and deductibles would not increase.
“Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued,” the union President Tony D. Cardwell said. “They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness.”
The White House it will continue to work with the parties to get a deal done.
“We stand ready to support the parties in their efforts, and continue to urge both sides to finish their work and avoid even the threat of a shutdown in the future,” spokesperson Robyn Patterson said.
But last month the President celebrated what he thought was his achievement.
“I want to thank the lead negotiators and the lab- — from the labor movement — the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the Trainmen; International Association of Sheet Metal and Air and Rail and Transportation Workers union; and the other labor unions engaged,” he said.
“And this is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers and for their dignity and the dignity of their work. It’s a recognition of that.
“During these early, dark, uncertain days of the pandemic, they showed up so every American could keep going. They worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that families and communities got the deliveries they needed during these difficult few years,” he said.
“And because of the labor agreement, those rail workers will get better pay — a 24 percent wage increase over the next five years, improved working conditions, peace of mind around their healthcare by capping the cost that workers will have to pay.
“And it’s about the right to go to a doctor or stay healthy and make sure you’re able to have the care you can afford. It’s all part of this agreement. They earned and deserve these benefits,” the president said.
“And this is a great deal for both sides, in my view. The agreement is also a victory for railway companies.
“And I want to thank the lead negotiators from the Railway — the National Railway Labor Conference and our major rail companies. These companies also played a critical role in keeping America moving during the pandemic. And that’s not hyperbole, it’s a fact.
“With this agreement, railroad companies will be able to retain and recruit workers. They’ll be able to continue to operate effectively as a vital piece of our economy. They’re really the backbone of the economy. I have a visual image of rails being the backbone. I mean, literally, the backbone of the economy,” he said.
“Together, we reached an agreement — you reached an agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruptions to our economy,” he said.