Working In These Times
Under Pressure From Congress, Railroad Workers Union Accepts Concessions
Tentative agreement comes nearly two months after BLET authorized strike
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Last week, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), representing 35,000 rail employees, reached a tentative agreement with an industry association representing more than 30 railroad companies. The union, one of two railroad worker union that authorized a strike back in October, is under pressure from Congress, which has the power to enforce a contract between railroad companies and unions. BLET leaders voted to accept a contract with concessions on certain areas, although details have still not been released. The union announced today that members, who will soon vote to ratify the agreement, have been notified.
Legislation was introduced in both the Senate, by Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and in the House, by GOP House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), that would have prevented a strike. The Senate legislation would have merely extended time for negotiations, while legislation in the House would have stopped any such strike from occurring.
In October, Obama formed a Presidential Emergency Board comprised of five members to issue recommendations on what type of contract the two sides should agree to. As I reported early last month, among other things the Board called for a wage increase greater than what was previously agreed to and also recommended that the union accept the company’s call for workers to pay an average $200 more a month out of pocket for healthcare. BLET President Dennis Pierce has said the new contract won't boost healthcare costs this much.
While the BLET did not immediately release the details of the contract, in calling for ratification Pierce said:
First, the wage terms are reasonable, and on a par with the 2007 National Agreement. Second, we have taken steps to significantly mitigate the impact of the PEB’s health and welfare recommendations. And, third, you should be aware that Congress is poised to prevent us from making our stand on the healthcare question, because legislation already has been filed to impose the bare PEB recommendations — without the enhancements we have negotiated — before the cooling-off period ends.
Now the contract will go to a vote of the membership for ratification. If it is not ratified, union members will have the right to pursue more contract negotiations and possibly even strike. But given recent signals from both the House and Senate, that's extremely unlikely.