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The Hopeful Deal to Avert a Disastrous Railroad Strike is About to Fall Apart

The Biden administration’s rush to boast and take victory laps over a tentative railroad deal was short-lived after railroad workers stated that they still didn’t have any details about paid sick leave or voluntarily assigned days off. 

Rail workers are scheduled to vote on a deal that was made between railroad unions and the railroads Thursday morning. If any of the 12 rail unions don’t present a modified, new contract, nearly 125,000 rail workers could very well go on strike, which would be a disaster for the Biden administration right before the election in November. 

The agreement, if it is signed off on,  would include a mandate for two-person crews, cap health care costs for railroad workers, and allow workers to take time off for medical appointments or other scheduled events without being penalized, which were all key concessions that were included in the proposal. The deal also included a  24 percent raise over the next five years, back pay, and a cash bonus which are similar terms to those offered by the White House-appointed presidential emergency board (PEB) in August.

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But approximately a day and a half after the agreement was reached, rail workers said they still didn’t have confirmed, solid details on their sick leave and voluntarily assigned days off, raising concerns about how solid the new contract language is.

Ron Kaminkow, an organizer at Railroad Workers United representing rank-and-file railroaders, said there is “a lot of anger, confusion and hostility” toward the new agreement, which many railroad workers believe contains deliberately vague language.

“Workers are pissed off and this time we actually have a lot of leverage,” said a locomotive engineer at Norfolk Southern who has asked for anonymity. “I know I’m not going to accept anything less than what we deserve.” 

During negotiations, the two largest rail unions in the nation said their union members wouldn’t approve a contract that doesn’t address their outrage over unpredictable scheduling, unsafe working conditions, and no paid sick leave.

In order for the threat of a strike to end, workers are saying that they need to be assured that the proposed contract is stronger than that of the  Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). A survey done at the SMART Transportation Division of rail workers showed that 8 out of 10 workers would vote to reject the proposal using PEB guidelines with its current vague language. 



Another issue is that the tentative agreement reached last week only applies to SMART and the Brotherhood Of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the two largest rail unions, but does not include the other smaller unions that agreed to contracts based on the less appealing PEB guidelines. This would include approximately 5,000 rail workers at the International Association of Machinists, and Aerospace Workers. They rejected the PEB contract and authorized a strike a week ago. However, the union said it would work to resolve the issues in the proposed contract and delay a strike until September 29th. 

Of course, counting votes on these negotiations is going to drag into October, possibly becoming a major focus at the peak of election season.