A Potential Rail Strike Looms Again

✪ Members of the country’s largest rail union on Monday rejected a proposed labor contract with freight railroads, resulting in a potential nationwide freight-rail strike amid the holiday season and Congress likely intervening to avert such a shutdown...

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Two of the 12 unions involved voted Monday. The other union, the nation’s second-largest rail union, which represents engineers, ratified its own contract, according to CNN. However, that deal alone is not enough to avert a nationwide strike, which could begin as soon as Dec. 5 and raising concerns about further disruptions of the U.S. supply chain and exacerbating already high inflation. 

The work stoppage would impact coal shipments, passenger rail service and could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars per day.

Three of the unions in September already rejected a proposed contract agreement brokered by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh – over such lingering issues including sick leave. 

There are 12 railroad unions involved in the negotiations. All 12 need to agree to the contract; if only one union declines, as was the case on Sunday night, the others would refuse to cross the proverbial picket line out of solidarity.

Problems with an already-shaky economy and a rough holiday season could become exacerbated by the renewed threat of a nationwide rail strike. Coal transportation would be affected along with passenger service; however, it is worth noting that rail companies also transport a large variety of both industrial supplies and consumer product items. These may include automobiles, food, furniture, toys, fuel, and construction materials. All of these items and products could be directly impacted by the strike. The strike could cost the nation billions at a time when consumer expectations are already higher than normal, energy usage and prices are up across the nation, and people are finding their dollars do not have nearly the buying power they once did.

The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) said in a press release that fellow union Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) ratified the contract with 53.5% of the membership voting for the deal. But SMART-TD rejected the contract with a split decision. 50.87% of train and engine service members represented by SMART-TD voted to reject the deal while 62.48% of Yardmasters elected to ratify it. So, it’s back to the negotiating table. In the SMART-TD release, President Jeremy Ferguson stated:

“SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members. This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people. The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table. But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”

The press release went on to say that a status quo agreement between SMART-TD and management will remain in place until December 8. After that date, members can strike or rail carriers could lock out workers. Congress is on break until November 28, leaving little time for legislators to address the situation.

Republicans assuming control of the House in January could impose the recommendations made by a special board created by President Biden earlier in the year, which would negate any previous deals. Of course, Democrats would like to see a strike averted and would prefer to avoid taking action, but they also want the companies to meet employees’ demands over scheduling and sick leave.✪

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