Railway Union Rejected Tentative Agreement

Congressional imposition on railway bargains may force workers back to work


Abigail Shimniok graphic

In the past couple of weeks, railway unions across the nation have been voting on the Tentative Agreement, a bargain proposal presented by President Biden to the high-tension discussion between the railway industry and railway unions. With some unions rejecting the Tentative Agreement, Biden has encouraged Congress to take executive action to halt any strikes.

Two of the largest railway unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers delivered split decisions. BLET and SMART-TD account for half of the unionized railway workforce.

SMART-TD is separated into different crafts: Conductor, Engine Service, Yardmen and Yardmaster. Each craft must vote respectively, and ratification for their portion of the agreement requires a majority.

SMART-TD Yardmaster voted to ratify their portion, Document B, of the Tentative Agreement. SMART-TD Conductors, Engine Service, Brakemen and Yardmen voted against their portion, Document A.

Of the 12 unions voting on the tentative agreement, SMART-TD (except Yardmasters), the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees and the International Association of Boilermakers and Blacksmiths rejected the deal. These four unions represent 56% of union membership in the railway industry.

SMART-TD reported on their website on Nov. 21 that “as a majority of the members voting of each of the operating crafts did not approve the 2022 Tentative Agreement, Document A has failed ratification … With respect to the operating craft members outlined above, SMART-TD has entered a cooling-off period that extends through December 8, 2022. The National Carriers’ Conference Committee has already indicated to us that they do not intend to engage in further bargaining over these issues. This has been their behavior to the other unions that have failed to ratify during this round of bargaining.”

One of the largest points of contention towards Document A is the number of sick days provided to railway workers. As Reuters reports, “there are no paid sick days under the tentative deal after unions asked for 15 and railroads settled on one personal day.”

The rejection of the Tentative Agreement has pushed President Biden to urge Congress to act.

President Biden said in a White House statement on Nov. 29, “I am calling on Congress to pass legislation immediately to adopt the Tentative Agreement between railroad workers and operators without any modifications or delay to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown … The deal provides a historic 24% pay raise for rail workers. It provides improved health care benefits. And it provides the ability of operating craft workers to take unscheduled leave for medical needs. Since that time, the majority of the unions in the industry have voted to approve the deal.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi confirmed that Congress will consider legislation this week to immediately adopt the Tentative Agreement and impose back-to-work orders to prevent any railway strikes. The immediate adoption of the Tentative Agreement would contain the highly contested one paid sick day.