Railroads reject demands from holdout union, raising odds of strike

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America's major freight railroads have rejected demands from the only union that has so far refused to ratify their new contract brokered through the Biden administration, increasing the odds of a nationwide strike as early as mid-November.

The National Carriers' Conference Committee (NCCC) representing major railroads including BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific issued a statement Wednesday evening turning down new sick time demands made by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED), after its members voted last week to decline a new five-year contract offering 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses.

A freight train rolls past an oil refinery in the Port of Los Angeles in Wilmington. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images / Getty Images)

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
UNPUNION PACIFIC CORP.186.45-13.61-6.80%
CSXCSX CORP.27.08-0.84-3.01%
NSCNORFOLK SOUTHERN CORP.204.87-12.75-5.86%

The NCCC said that the additional benefits requested by the union were rejected by President Biden's Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), and noted that BMWED signed off on a tentative agreement weeks prior to their membership voting on it.

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The BMWED is the third-largest union involved in negotiations, and the only one thus far out of the dozen involved that has voted against ratifying their new contract. However, it may not be the last.

Six unions have signed off on their new deals so far, but another five unions' votes remain outstanding.

A worker rides a rail car at a BNSF rail crossing in Saginaw, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.  (AP Photo/LM Otero / AP Newsroom)

A major sticking point is that railroad workers say they lack sick time off, and railroads say that is not true.

"Now, following an unsuccessful initial membership ratification process, BMWED leadership is asking for additional benefits and threatening to strike, this time based on the easily disproven premise that union workers are not allowed to take sick leave," the NCCC wrote.

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The railroad negotiators said that "rail employees can and do take time off for sickness," adding that it has been a longstanding agreement between railroads and unions that the time off is unpaid "in favor of higher compensation for days worked and more generous sickness benefits for longer absences."

A BNSF rail terminal worker monitors the departure of a freight train, on June 15, 2021, in Galesburg, Ill. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar) ((AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar, File) / AP Newsroom)

When BMWED members rejected the deal, the union agreed to return to the negotiating table and hold off on striking until after Congress returns to session next month. 

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All 12 unions must agree to their new contracts before time runs out in order to avoid a strike. But if holdouts remain at that time, Congress is expected to intervene to avoid a work stoppage that threatens to cripple the economy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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