Majority of rail labor unions ratify negotiated contracts

Rail labor unions have concluded voting on the proposed bargaining agreements with the nation’s freight railroads. BLET, which represents the nation’s engineers and trainmen, has successfully ratified its agreement, while SMART-TD, which represents conductors and other rail employees, failed to do so.

Ian Jefferies headshot
Ian Jefferies

“Today, the BLET joined the majority of our unions in approving the largest wage increases in nearly five decades and also paved a path toward greater scheduling predictability for its members,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “Railroads stand ready to reach new deals based upon the PEB framework with our remaining unions, but the window continues to narrow as deadlines rapidly approach. Let’s be clear, if the remaining unions do not accept an agreement, Congress should be prepared to act and avoid a disastrous $2 billion a day hit to our economy.”

Membership voting results at SMART-TD, which holds two separate contracts, were split. The first agreement, which represents the conductor, brakemen, engine service, and yardmen groups, was not ratified. The second SMART-TD agreement, which covers approximately 1,300 yardmasters, was successfully ratified.

Eight of the 12 labor unions plus a portion of SMART-TD’s membership have now fully agreed to contracts that provide employees with a 24 percent wage increase over the five-year period from 2020 to 2024 and preserve employees’ best-in-class healthcare coverage. For BLET, its agreement also paves the way to address important issues related to schedule predictability and job assignments on a railroad-by-railroad basis for engineers whose work assignments, similar to conductors, can be dependent upon train schedules that vary. In rejecting its agreement, SMART-TD also rejected the pathway for further scheduling negotiations.

Four unions – BMWED, BRS, and IBB, in addition to SMART-TD – remain without agreements in place, and the end of their cooling-off periods is rapidly approaching a strike by BRS, which is possible as soon as December 5th. A work stoppage would have disastrous impacts on the economy, rail customers, and the American people, with a projected impact of $2 billion per day.

While railroads remain committed to reaching agreements with these remaining unions, the timeline for those to occur is short. Congress has historically intervened to prevent rail system disruptions. In the event that the four unions remain unwilling to enter agreements within the bounds of the PEB’s framework, Congress must be prepared to act and institute the terms supported by the majority of the unions, guaranteeing certainty for rail customers and the broader economy.

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