A strike can freeze up to 30 percent of freight shipments as workers express frustration over quality of life issues.
Members of the largest railroad union in the United States have voted against a potential contract deal, raising the possibility of a strike.
In a vote on Monday, train and engine service workers from the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) rejected a tentative agreement reached in September.
“The ball is now in the railways’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the negotiating table,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a pronunciation.
Union voters cited unmet quality-of-life issues, including demanding schedules, as among the reasons for rejecting the deal.
Railroad companies, meanwhile, have refused to budge on issues such as paid sick leave and have not indicated a willingness to resume negotiations, raising the possibility of intervention by the US Congress to prevent a massive strike that would cripple the country’s supply chain. can disrupt.
The mood comes amid an uptick labor organization in the US, as workers push for higher pay and better working conditions.
While SMART-TD members rejected the contract Monday, another major railroad union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), voted in favor. Both unions, along with 10 smaller ones, must approve new contracts to avoid a strike.
Seven of the twelve unions previously approved the deal. Three voted against, but agreed to extend the strike deadline to early December.
The deal stems from an emergency council convened earlier this year by US President Joe Biden to avoid costly cargo disruptions. A rail closure could freeze up to 30 percent of US freight shipments by weight, impacting industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and retail.
Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board released a 124-page report in August that laid the groundwork for the five-year contract deal. The proposal includes a 24 percent cumulative raise for employees and a $5,000 bonus over five years. Railway companies call the agreement the “most generous wage package in almost 50 years”.
The United States Congress has the power to impose contract terms if an agreement is not reached in time to prevent a strike. Business groups have urged Biden, who helped broker the preliminary contract in September, to be ready to intervene.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called a shutdown last month “completely unacceptable” and said it was the “responsibility of the parties involved to resolve this issue.”
The group that negotiates on behalf of railway companies stated on Monday that unions should not expect more than outlined by the emergency council.
If Congress intervened, it is not clear which group would benefit from that intervention. Republican lawmakers could push unions to accept the terms of the Presidential Emergency Board, while Democratic lawmakers could push for additional concessions from the railroads.