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Threat of Rail Strike Returns After Union Rejects Deal

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A Norfolk Southern freight train in Wyomissing, PA

A Norfolk Southern freight train in Wyomissing, PA
Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle (Getty Images)

After coming to a tentative agreement last month, it seems that the country’s freight railroads are back on track for a cataclysmic strike. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) has voted against the proposed five-year contract, with 56 percent of members opposing the deal. The union will return to the negotiation table with the Class I freight railroad before a potential strike, but things aren’t looking good.

BMWED is just one of a dozen railroad workers’ unions and represents around 36,000 track maintenance workers. However, all 12 unions must agree to a new contract to avoid a national rail strike. Four smaller unions had already voted in favor of their contracts, but all dozen unions won’t complete voting until the middle of November. With half of the country’s freight being transported by rail at some point in its journey, the White House worked to bring the dispute to a conclusion. BMWED has promised not to strike until after Congress reconvenes next month.

BMWED President Tony D. Cardwell said:

“The majority of the BMWED membership rejected the tentative national agreement and we recognize and understand that result. I trust that railroad management understands that sentiment as well. Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard. Railroaders do not feel valued. 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 result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

The concerns of BMWED members primarily center around the lack of paid time off and sick days in their contract despite including a 24 percent pay raise and a $5,000 bonus. The hope is to renegotiate a better contract before a strike becomes necessary, like the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers did with the railroad at the end of September.

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