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2 More Rail Unions Ratify Contracts

Two more rail unions have ratified tentative deals struck between their leadership and railroads, even as some workers remain critical of the new contracts. 

The International Association of Sheet, Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation’s Railroad, Mechanical and Dngineering Department (SMART MD) said 54 percent of its members who voted on the contract agreed to ratify the deal. 

“It was up to our members to decide whether to accept this agreement, and the members have made the decision to ratify a contract with the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national freight rail bargaining,” SMART general president Joseph Sellers Jr. said in a statement Wednesday. 

The deal includes a 24 percent compounded wage increase spanning the life of the five-year contract that began in 2020. It also adds an extra paid day off, additions to the healthcare package and five bonus payments. 

Sellers went on to say in his statement “we hear the concerns of our members who may be disappointed in the outcome of this vote” and said the union will continue to “ensure that they receive the wages, benefits and working conditions that they deserve for keeping the American economy running.” 

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SMART MD is one division of SMART, which also has its Transportation Division (SMART-TD) voting on ratifying their own contract. Ballots to those members are expected to be mailed, following the end of a question-and-answer period on the contract currently taking place.

SMART MD’s ratification was followed by the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers (NCFO) approval of their contract, which was announced Thursday. The deal was approved by 58.7 percent of the group’s members. 

NCFO, like SMART MD, acknowledged the number of workers critical of the deal, with the group’s president highlighting the fact that the contract was not negotiated with carriers. Instead, the NCFO deal was based on the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) established by President Biden in the summer to help the two sides resolve their dispute and avoid a national strike

“It must be noted that the carriers’ made degrading proposals for three long years while our members suffered without a wage increase,” NCFO president Dean Devita said in a statement Thursday. “NCFO and our rail labor partners had to fight this contract round at the Presidential Emergency Board. Besides the strong wage increases and the increase in our health insurance, many members of the NCFO are disappointed with the terms of the agreement. I strongly agree with them. Quailty of life issues after the Covid-19 crisis [are] extremely important, sick leave and time off to visit medical practitioners are more important today than [they were] 48 years ago. Although the agreement is finalized, the NCFO will continue to work on this and many other issues.” 

The PEB held hearings with the railroads and unions before issuing a report in August with contract recommendations. The clock on a new cooling off period in which no strike or lockout was permissible was then reset with release of the report. 

Had tentative deals not been struck, workers could have engaged in a strike or Congress could have stepped in to resolve the issue and force an agreement last month. Historically, Congress has enforced the PEB recommendations, a reality some unions cited in their decisions to strike the tentative agreements with employers to allow their members the opportunity to vote. 

The National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) said it was “pleased” both the NCFO and SMART MD members ratified their agreements.

Six unions have so far approved terms of the new contract. Five more have yet to complete voting. 

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED) said Monday more than 56 percent of its membership rejected the contract. The group now goes back to the negotiating table with carriers, with workers allowed by law to strike as early as Nov. 19. 

BMWED president Tony Cardwell said workers are “discouraged and upset” with pay, working conditions and management. 

“The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale,” Cardwell went on to say.