US rail strike averted with tentative deal

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by Emily Atkins

US president Joe Biden announced the White House had brokered a tentative contract agreement averting a possible US rail strike.

In a statement Biden said: “I thank the unions and rail companies for negotiating in good faith and reaching a tentative agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruption of our economy.”

The deal between the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), a Division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the largest freight rail carriers in the US includes wage increases, bonuses, with no increases to insurance copays and deductibles.

The unions, which represent more than 60,000 rail workers, reported that the deal calls for an immediate wage increase of 14 percent once compounded, with an additional four percent on July 1, 2023, and 4.5 percent on July 1, 2024.  In addition, wage increases of three percent effective July 1, 2020, 3.5 percent effective July 1, 2021, and seven percent effective July 1, 2022, will be fully retroactive, for a compounded increase of 24 percent over the 5-year term of the agreement.  The agreement also includes annual lump sum bonus payments totaling US$5,000.

In a statement, the unions said: “The solidarity shown by our members, essential workers to this economy, who keep America’s freight trains moving, made the difference in our obtaining an agreement with provisions that exceeded the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board. We listened when our members told us that a final agreement would require improvements to our member’s quality of life as well as economic gains.”

The unions also acknowledged the hard work of the president, labour secretary and deputy labour secretary in getting the agreement.

The National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) which bargained for the railways, thanked the unions’ leadership teams for their “professionalism and efforts during the bargaining process. We also would like to thank the Biden administration – in particular Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and his team, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and the board members and staff at the National Mediation Board – for their assistance in reaching these settlements,” it said in a media release.

“For the American people, the hard work done to reach this tentative agreement means that our economy can avert the significant damage any shutdown would have brought,” Biden said in his statement.

The deal requires a ratification vote by the unions.

The NRLC also announced that agreements between the nation’s freight railroads and two labour organizations were ratified by the unions’ membership. The two unions are the Transportation Communications Union/IAM (TCU/IAM) and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), which together represent more than 11,000 rail workers.

The ratified agreements implement the August 16 recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) No. 250, including a 24 percent wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024 — with a 14.1 percent wage increase effective immediately — and five annual $1,000 lump sum payments.

These are the first two agreements to be ratified in the national bargaining round. Ratification votes with other unions that have reached tentative agreements are pending, and the railroads continue to negotiate with unions that have not yet reached tentative agreements.

Ratification the International Association of Machinists (IAM), was unsuccessful. The railroads will work with the IAM to determine next steps.