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‘Split Decision’ - Unions Representing Train Engineers & Conductors ‘Take Different Routes’ In Freight Rail Contract Ratification Vote

TD Yardmasters & BLET Members Both Ratify National Rail Agreement With The Nation’s Class I Railroads, While Operating Craft (Train & Engine Service) Members Of SMART-TD Reject Agreement

Published Monday, November 21, 2022
by SMART News
‘Split Decision’ - Unions Representing Train Engineers & Conductors ‘Take Different Routes’ In Freight Rail Contract Ratification Vote

(INDEPENDENCE, OHIO) - Voting concluded midnight Sunday (November 20th) for Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) - as well as the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD), on proposed new five-year collective bargaining agreements with the Nation’s Class I Railroads:

BLET Members voted to accept a tentative agreement reached on September 15th.

SMART-TD Train and Engine Service Members voted to reject their proposed contract, while SMART-TD Yardmaster Members voted to accept.

BLET and SMART-TD are the two largest Rail Unions, accounting for half of the Unionized Workforce on the Nation’s largest freight railroads.

The five-year agreement ratified by BLET Members and SMART TD Yardmaster Members addresses rates of pay, health and welfare, and other fringe benefits for approximately 24,000 Locomotive Engineers and other Rail Workers represented by the Union who are employed by the Nation’s Class I railroads.

A record number of eligible BLET Members participated in the ratification vote with 53.5% voting in favor and 46.5% voting against.

Turnout among the more than 28,000 eligible SMART-TD Members was also a record high - 50.87% of Train and Engine Service Members represented by SMART-TD voted to reject the tentative agreement, while 62.48% of SMART-TD-represented Yardmasters voted to ratify.  

Representatives from SMART-TD will now head back to the bargaining table with the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), which represents railroad management, to negotiate new terms for the affected Train and Engine Service Members.

BLET President Dennis Pierce said: “BLET is a Membership-driven Union.  In September, our National Wage Committee and our General Chairmen who represent Freight Rail Workers unanimously agreed that the time had come for the Membership to have a say on their contract.  Since then, we have worked to ensure that all of our Members fully understand the wins and losses in the Presidential Emergency Board recommendations and how those recommendations were improved upon leading to the tentative agreement sent out for their consideration.  In every communication we stressed that we were there to explain the tentative agreement, not to tell any Member how to vote.  Our goal was to get all involved Members to cast a ballot - no matter how they voted.  With over two-thirds of eligible BLET Members returning a ballot, a true majority of the Membership has spoken and I want to thank them all for participating.  Rank-and-File Member ratification of contracts is one of the core Democratic principles of our Union.”

Under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, the Labor Law for Workers employed by railroads and airlines, contracts don’t generally expire, they become amendable.

After the Unions filed their Section 6 notices with the NCCC in November 2019, talks began in January 2020.

“SMART-TD Members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table for our Operating Craft Members,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “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.”

A Status Quo Agreement between SMART TD and management is in effect until December 8th.

Beginning on December 9th, SMART-TD would be allowed to go on Strike or the rail carriers would be permitted to lock out Workers - unless Congress intervenes.

“The ball is now in the railroads’ court.  Let’s see what they do.  They can settle this at the bargaining table,” Ferguson said. “But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”

If there is a Strike by SMART-TD or any of the other three Rail Unions that have rejected proposed contracts with the carriers, BLET and the other eight Rail Unions that have ratified agreements have pledged to lawfully honor their picket lines.

“We stood shoulder to shoulder with our Brothers and Sisters in SMART-TD and others in Rail Labor throughout this process, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with them as we approach the finish line in this round of negotiations,” Pierce said.

The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of 125,000 active and retired Members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the Transportation Industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 Professional Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen throughout the United States.  The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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