After a fourth U.S. railroad union rejected a deal with their employers brokered by the Biden administration – and rekindled fears of a national railroad strike – a spokesperson for the railroads has claimed they are “ready, willing and able” to conclude new negotiations.
“We need to keep the network moving. We need to keep the economy moving,” Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Ian Jeffries said on “Varney & Co.” Tuesday. “And that’s why we’re ready, willing, and able to enter into new voluntary agreements. And without that, we believe Congress may have to be ready to step in as it always has.”
Jeffries’ comments come just after a fourth railroad union rejected a tentative agreement with the nation’s major freight railroads, citing the prospect of a nationwide strike that could bring the economy to its knees at the middle of the holiday season.
Members of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD), representing more than 28,000 workers, reached a split decision when counting the vote announced on Monday. Yardmasters represented by SMART-TD voted to ratify their contract, but a small group of some 1,300 train and engine department members voted against their separate contract.
ANOTHER RAILWAY UNION REJECTS AGREEMENT AND INCREASES THREAT OF STRIKE AHEAD OF HOLIDAYS
The 12 unions involved in the negotiations must ratify their new agreements to avoid a possible work stoppage, which would decimate already fragile supply chains in the midst of the Christmas shopping rush. While eight have already accepted the agreement negotiated by the Emergency Presidential Council (PEB) appointed by President Biden, a strike could take place as early as December 9.
In October, the AAR estimated that the strikes’ disruption of the supply chain would cost the US economy $2 billion a day.
“This is exactly why we must do everything we can to avoid an economic crippling work stoppage that is in no one’s interest,” Jeffries said Tuesday. “Not the interests of our employees, not the interests of the carriers, not the interests of our customers.”
While the original deal gave railroad workers a 24% pay rise over five years and thousands of dollars in bonuses, some unions have raised concerns about the lack of sick leave.
“The [National Carriers’ Conference Committee] says we have sickness benefits, that’s true. But to start claiming the benefits, you have to be on leave for 7 days – 7 days without pay,” a member of the Brotherhood of Way Maintenance Employees of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters previously told FOX Business.
He recalled a worker who took off for 10 days because he had COVID-19 and only got paid $74 during that time. Many workers have to use vacation time to get paid for such absences, he said, and it’s a sacrifice in their career field.
“Most guys spend more than 230 days away from their families a year, so our holidays are very important,” the worker said. “My grandfather passed away, and instead of being with my family, I had to work and use the holidays for his funeral. We have practically no time. Or you have guys getting sick with COVID because they don’t want to lose a salary.”
Jeffries noted that the railroads are continuing discussions to identify ways forward with the four unions that rejected the tentative agreement.
“Our employees work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 [days] and do an amazing job of moving US cargo and doing it safely. These are tough jobs, and that’s why they pay so well and they absolutely deserve the compensation that’s included in these deals,” Jeffries said. “And that’s why it’s important that we make it through to the last of the finish line so that our employees can get the compensation they’ve earned and deserve for the hard work they put in.” »
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Earlier this month, US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told Edward Lawrence of FOX Business that he encouraged both sides to stay at the table and expressed hope that there would have no strike.
“I encouraged both parties to stay at the table and give it another try and get another ratification vote, before the deadline,” Walsh said, adding he was “very engaged” in the talks. ongoing which he has previously described as “long” and “painful”.
Jeffries suggested all parties take a step back and assess where the negotiations are right now.
“We’ve had 8 of 12 unions, 9 of 13 contracts fully ratified, which means these employees and these unions are getting this immediate $16,000 wage increase and 24% on the terms of the contract, which will result in a $160,000 average salary and benefits for our employees,” Jeffries explained.
“So we are very happy to have come to this. We have work to do with our last four unions, and we continue to have these discussions and identify a way forward.”
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Breck Dumas of FOX Business contributed to this report.
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