Two more unions said Friday they’ve struck tentative agreements with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), the group negotiating on behalf of carriers, that will now go before workers for a vote.
The agreements with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA) involve about 6,000 workers. They join the more than 5,000 workers whose unions struck tentative deals with employers earlier this week.
“Our members are going through one of the highest inflationary periods our country has ever experienced, and this agreement provides for good wages, five $1,000 service recognition bonuses and full retroactive pay back to June 30, 2020,” ATDA president F. Leo McCann said Friday.
The deal also includes the addition of a personal day, autism coverage and hearing aid benefit limits expanded from $600 to $2,000.
The Presidential Emergency Board’s (PEB) recommended 24 percent compounded wage increase, with the contract effective through the end of 2024, was also accepted and reflects the highest bump in more than three decades.
IBEW International president Lonnie Stephenson called the process “long and tough,” but the tentative deal gets members more than 70 percent of the union’s ask.
“The freight rail industry is crucial to our economy, and the men and women who keep it moving deserve a fair deal,” Stephenson said. “We didn’t win everything we wanted, but this agreement is a step in the right direction and we recommend members support it.”
The PEB was established in mid-July in an effort to avoid a national rail strike and help the two parties reach a resolution. The PEB’s hearings resulted in a 119-page report released last month that also triggered the start of a 30-day cooling off period preventing the unions or employers from engaging in a strike or lockout tactics, also known under the law as “self-help.”
With Friday’s announcement, more than 21,000 of the total 115,000 workers, or five of the 12 unions, involved in negotiations now have pending deals set for review by members.
The remaining workers have until Sept. 16 to hash out agreements, before the cooling off period expires.
The carriers continued to urge other unions that have not yet struck tentative agreements with the NCCC to do so, calling it “critical” to prevent service disruptions.
“Accordingly, we look forward to additional discussions with the unions that have not yet reached tentative agreements and will continue seeking voluntary agreements based on the PEB’s recommendations,” the NCCC said Friday.
The latest agreements reflect a sign of continued progress on the drawn-out talks, but the contracts for the majority of workers still remain outstanding. And the PEB’s recommendations were not without criticism from some unions following the report’s release.
The Railroad Workers United (RWU), a cross-union organization, said Friday it was launching a “vote no” campaign on ratifying any tentative agreement based on the PEB recommendations as they currently stand.
The board’s 24 percent wage increase splits the difference between the carriers’ and unions’ proposals.
The RWU last week released results of a survey polling over 3,100 workers on the PEB report, with 93 percent of respondents saying they would vote against any agreement that used the board’s recommendations presented as is.
Nearly 96 percent of those surveyed said they supported a strike after the cooling off period.
The majority of those surveyed represented the SMART Transportation Department (SMART-TD), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen BLET (BLET) unions.
Congress has the authority to step in should the two sides fail to reach an agreement by the end of the cooling off period.
Dennis Pierce and Jeremy Ferguson, the presidents of BLET and SMART-TD, respectively, both asked Congress in a joint statement late Friday to “stay out of our dispute.”
“It has become clear in our post-Presidential Emergency Board negotiations with the rail carriers that they are counting on the federal government to come to their aid if we are unable to reach a tentative agreement, and so far, we have not reached an agreement,” Pierce and Ferguson said.
The two, in acknowledging the different viewpoints on the unions that have struck tentative deals thus far, said the specifics of the contract for BLET and SMART-TD workers are “situated differently” from other groups and the goal is to reach an agreement workers can vote on, as opposed to having Congress involved.
“As we reach the end of the Railway Labor Act negotiating process, all of our contracts will soon be settled, one way or the other,” Pierce and Ferguson said. “Allowing the membership to decide how that happens is at the very core of the labor movement, and our unions will not interfere in the decision by other rail unions to vote up a tentative agreement based upon the PEB’s recommendations.”