What is the railroad strike of 2022? Why rail workers are striking and what it means for you
The majority of Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union members voted against a proposed five-year contract, with union President Tony Cardwell saying the deal didn’t do enough to address the lack of paid sick time or improve working conditions.
The vote comes after 20 straight hours of negotiations in September and pressure from President Joe Biden to reach a deal.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way union agreed to hold off any potential strike until after Congress reconvenes in mid-November to allow time for further negotiations.
Assistant White House press secretary Robyn Patterson said the cooling-off period ensures that the economy “is under no immediate threat.”
“The president remains focused on avoiding a rail shutdown, and both sides have said they share that desire. We stand ready to support the parties in their efforts, and continue to urge both sides to finish their work and avoid even the threat of a shutdown in the future,” Patterson said.
What is the railroad strike of 2022?
There are a total of 12 railroad unions that together represent about 115,000 employees.
Four of the 12 unions have approved their agreements with the freight railroads. All 12 must ratify their contracts to avert a strike.
The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Transportation Division, the largest railroad operating union in North America, expects to have results from its ratification vote "sometime in mid-November," according to a statement from president Jeremy Ferguson.
"The SMART Transportation Division is at the stage of distributing information for all of our TD freight members in national handling to fully consider the agreement," Ferguson said. "Ultimately, it will be up to the thousands of SMART-TD freight rail members to decide whether they accept this agreement."
Voting that will decide whether workers begin striking isn't expected to be completed among all 12 unions until mid-November. Various businesses have urged Congress to be prepared to block a strike if an agreement isn't reached.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre downplayed the setback, pointing to a cooling-off period that extends to November that she said will provide “adequate time” to avert a freight rail shutdown.
She said one union’s rejection of the Biden-backed proposal “does not mean we face an immediate rail shutdown,” but that the union and rail employers have more work ahead.
Jean-Pierre said it’s “not surprising” that the contract would face challenges from some workers and the White House stands “ready to assist at any time.”
“These negotiations have gone on for years. This is nothing new. We've seen this before,” she said.
Workers reject deal:Large rail union rejects deal, renewing strike possibility
Why are rail workers striking?
Earlier this year, railroad workers threatened to strike after more than three years of contract negotiations failed.
The unions pushed for a pay increase and better working conditions. Unions said workers are unable to take time off for medical visits and family emergencies without fear of punishment.
The 12 unions entered tentative agreements with railway companies in September. The deal included 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses over a five-year contract.
What are the railroad unions asking for?:Everything you need to know about a rail strike.
What would a railroad strike mean for consumers?
Industry experts have warned that a national railroad strike would shut down 30% of the country’s freight.
Travel by train would be disrupted because freight railroads own and maintain nearly all of the tracks on Amtrak’s system. And the supply chain – which has already seen pandemic-related challenges over the past few years – would see further impediments, with various goods taking even longer to reach consumers.
“A national rail strike would be an economic disaster – freezing the flow of goods, emptying shelves, shuttering workplaces, and raising prices for families and businesses alike,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark said in a September statement.
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