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Two of America’s Largest Rail Unions Are Split

52,000 unionized rail workers between two major unions voted on the tentative agreement, which was reached in September of this year.

52,000 unionized rail workers between two major unions voted on the tentative agreement, which was reached in September of this year.
Image: Matthew Nichol (Shutterstock)

Amidst ongoing tension between the nation’s railroad workers and the Department of Labor, a strike may be looming at the end of the tunnel. In a split decision, two rail unions have made two polar opposite agreements over White House-brokered bargaining agreements.

Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, also known as BLET, voted yesterday to accept a five year tentative deal that was first offered back in September. Meanwhile, the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) was split on the decision. SMART-TD train and service members voted to reject the proposed agreement while rail yard supervisors voted to accept it, meaning that the union is heading back to the bargaining table to hash out another deal with the National Carriers Conference Committee.

“SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson in a SMART-TD press release. “This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.”

According to SMART-TD, 28,000 members turned up to cast their vote—50.87% of the union’s train and engine service members voted to reject the agreement while 62.48% of yardmasters voted to accept it. 24,000 BLET members voted on the matter, with 53.5% voting in favor of ratification.

After 20 hours of discussions, SMART-TD and BLET reached a tentative deal with the Department of Labor this September, which reportedly included voluntary assigned days off and changes to out-of-pocket insurance costs, per an anonymous source speaking with the Washington Post. According to a leaked portion of the agreement, rail workers were able “to attend routine and preventative medical, as well as exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgical procedures.”

The government scrambled to come to an agreement with the unions following growing rumors of a possible strike, which could have serious consequences on the nation’s already struggling supply chains—which could be especially impactful with the upcoming holiday season. SMART-TD is currently in a status quo agreement with their management until December 8, but will be allowed to strike beginning on December 9. If SMART-TD does decide to strike, BLET and the other eight rail unions that voted to ratify their contracts pledged to respect the picket line.

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