As the countdown to a potential strike date continues, three of 12 labor unions have reportedly agreed to terms with Class I railroads on a new contract. While the agreement means disruptions will be avoided in areas where those union workers staff railroads, it still leaves three quarters of unions in ongoing negotiations with the date of an allowable work stoppage looming in mid-September. Focusing on the deal that has been reached, the three unions represent about 15,000 railroad workers - members of the International Association of Machinists, the Transportation Communications Union and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen and making up the International Association of Machinists Rail Division. It's a five year agreement with the NCCC (the Class I railroads) which covers the previous two years and the next three. In essence, the agreement follows the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) No. 250, with a 22% nominal and 24% compounded total salary increase, five $1,000 bonuses for service recognition and one additional paid day off.
What's still to come?
The deal is tentative, as all parties are in a mandatory 30-day cooling off period following the PEB recommendations, which ends Sept. 16. The tentative agreements allow additional time for union members to consider and vote on the contract, extending any potential strike or lockout deadline. On the other hand, nine other unions representing between 100,000 and 125,000 additional rail workers - including the largest of those which represent engineers and conductors - have yet to reach agreement, even with the PEB recommendations having been out there for about two weeks. The sticking point in their negotiations appears to be working conditions and quality of life concerns. More specifically, the unions have said cuts in employees and supply chain stress during the pandemic led to untenable increases in workload, and strict attendance policies by the railroads have made it difficult to take time off. The PEB report thought these issues would be best left to local arbitration, separate from the overall contract talks. What would happen if there is no agreement between some or all of the remaining unions? Theoretically, a work stoppage could occur which would disrupt already stressed supply chains. However, if that point was reached, the expectation is Congress would step in to either force an agreement or send the parties to arbitration - keeping the railroads moving.
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