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Railway Strike Averted, For Now


Roughly 57,000 workers were intent on walking off the job July 18th to protest low wages and poor working conditions.

Last week, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) reportedly voted by a 99.5% margin to authorize a strike if such action becomes legal and “necessary to secure a contract worthy of their consideration.”

All Railroad Freight Could HALT July 18th Unless Biden Intervenes

“The railroads used and continue to use their economic strength to steam roll their employees, their customers and the Nation, all for the sake of their bottom line, and it is clear that they have no intentions of changing,” BLET National President Dennis Pierce said in a statement.

“Let’s be clear; in our third year of negotiations, the rail carriers have never made a contract proposal to our Union that their employees, our members, would accept. Not once,” he added.

However, the strike that would have halted railroad freight traffic has, temporarily, been averted.

"Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order to establish an emergency board to handle an ongoing dispute between freight railroads and their unions over a new labor contract," Freight Waves reported.

The board’s formation averts a potential strike by union members on Monday.

The railroads and their unions have been embroiled in a contract dispute since January 2020, with wages and health care benefits being major sticking points. The National Mediation Board (NMB), an independent federal agency that mediates labor agreements for the railway and airline industries, stepped in earlier this year to mediate, but negotiations are still at an impasse. As a result, NMB released the railroads and unions from mediation and a 30-day cooling-off period began in June.

All these steps in the negotiation process, including conditions under which a union may elect to strike, are outlined under the Railway Labor Act.

“I have been notified by the National Mediation Board that in its judgment these disputes threaten substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree that would deprive a section of the country of essential transportation service,” the executive order from Biden read.

The executive order establishes a three-member board that will consist of impartial presidential appointees.

However, the Presidential Emergency Board is a temporary solution to the ongoing negotiations between the railroads and their unions.

There could still be a work stoppage in 60 days if the sides cannot reach an agreement.

"The Presidential Emergency Board that Biden named Friday has 30 days to try to find a solution satisfactory to both sides. If either rejects it, a second 30-day “cooling off” period would begin in which the two sides try to reach a deal," CNN noted.

Railway Age reported:

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By the end of this 30-day investigative period, the PEB will issue non-binding recommendations for settlement. The sides will then have 30 additional days—extending to Sept. 18—to reach a voluntary settlement based on those recommendations.

If no agreement is reached, the Railway Labor Act has run its course and unions may strike or management may lock out. Typically, in such situations, Congress acts quickly to write a back-to-work order that also typically contains third-party and binding settlement terms.

Negotiations toward amending existing contracts began in January 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed face-to-face collective bargaining, with early sessions conducted electronically.

Contracts negotiated under provisions of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) never expire, meaning a voluntary agreement or third-party settlement legislation is retroactive to the start of negotiations.

The National Carriers Conference Committee, representing rail management, said in a statement, “It remains in the best interest of all parties—and the public—for the railroads and rail labor organizations to promptly settle the bargaining round on reasonable terms that provide employees with prompt and well-deserved pay increases and prevent rail service disruptions. Although PEB recommendations are not binding, they historically have assisted the parties in reaching voluntary agreements during a 30-day cooling off period that begins when the PEB issues its report.”



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