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Disgruntled Rail Workers Starting to Agitate

A group of railroad workers is calling for a picket line Wednesday at terminals around the U.S. as union members vote in the coming weeks on whether to ratify tentative agreements struck by their leadership with carriers. 

The gathering is not a strike and is being touted as an informational picket organized by workers and not associated with any one union.

The group did not respond to a request from Sourcing Journal late Monday seeking additional information. 

The picket line appears to be organized by workers unhappy with the tentative deals that were struck with railroads over the past few weeks and who had been ready to strike had the remaining unions not worked out last-minute agreements with employers last week. 

The group described its members on social media as “disgruntled rank-and-file railroad workers demanding change.” 

Materials being distributed online indicate the group is pressing carriers on issues related to safer working conditions, paid sick days, healthcare costs and wage adjustments in line with inflation. 

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“The railroads have railroaded us for too long. It is time for the rank-and-file to stand up and show that we are not done,” said one of the handouts being circulated for Wednesday. “This Wednesday, September 21, 2022, we will practice the art of picketing our workplaces—because self-help may be around the corner for us, or the railroads.” 

Carriers and a dozen unions have been locked in negotiations since 2020, unable to reach resolutions on new contracts for workers through mediation earlier in the summer. President Biden, in response, established the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) in July to help the two sides with their contract disputes. 

The PEB’s recommendations were released in August, giving both parties time to negotiate further using the board’s suggestions as a starting point in the renewed talks. Union leaders since that time have struck tentative agreements, with the final labor groups reaching deals that were confirmed in the early morning hours of Sept. 16 that staved off the possibility of a nationwide rail shutdown. 

The agreements are not final and must now be ratified by workers. 

Two groups, the Transportation Communications Union/IAM (TCU/IAM) and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), voted in favor of ratifying their contracts. The two unions comprise more than 11,000 workers out of the roughly 115,000 in total that are negotiating new contracts.

A third union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 19, said last week their roughly 4,900 members rejected the tentative agreement and voted in favor of a strike. The organization now goes back to the negotiating table with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) to continue talks until a newly agreed upon deadline of Sept. 29. 

Railroad Workers United (RWU), a North American railroad labor group agnostic of craft and union, was not involved with the plans for picketing on Wednesday but said it supported the action. 

“The rank and file is not standing idly by waiting, but is mobilizing, as evidenced by the group that has come together to call for Wednesday’s action,” RWU organizer and general secretary for the steering committee Ron Kaminkow said in a statement.

RWU went on to say it’s planning its own “possible action” in the coming weeks. 

The group late last month polled nearly 3,200 workers on the PEB recommendations and found the majority of those surveyed, 93 percent, said they would vote against ratifying an agreement based on the board’s suggestions. Additionally, 95.8 percent said they would have been in favor of a strike, which would have been allowed as early as last Friday had the remaining tentative agreements not been struck.