A fourth rail union has voted down the deal brought by the Biden administration, raising concerns of a strike in the middle of the holiday shopping season.
SMART Transportation Division, the largest freight rail union representing 28,000 conductors and trainmen, rejected the deal Monday, according to an article from NPR. But it wasn’t a landslide – 50.87 percent voted against the deal.
President and CEO of the National Retail Federation Matthew Shay issued a statement after news broke of the latest rejection and called on Congress to intervene.
“Millions of hardworking Americans rely on the freight rail system for their jobs and the economic security of our country,” Shay said in his statement. “A nationwide rail strike during the peak holiday season will be devastating for American businesses, consumers and the U.S. economy. …
“Smooth and stable operations on the rails is absolutely crucial this holiday season and should not be derailed by a rejection of the contract. Eight of the 12 unions have ratified the agreement, while four have rejected it. The parties must work out the issues and ratify the contract without a disruption to the system. If not, Congress must step in to prevent a strike before the end of the cooling off period on December 8.”
The agreement in question gives rail workers a 24 percent raise over five years, an additional personal day and caps on health care costs. It also includes modifications to some attendance policies that would allow workers to take care of their health without penalty for missing work.
When the contract was presented back in September by the Biden Administration, railroads labeled it the most generous contract in modern history. However, some workers said the average payout of $16,000 in back raises and bonuses as not enough when compared to the record profits in recent years.
“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 statement. “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.”
The four unions who have voted against the agreement have until December 8 to reach a deal. If any one union opts to strike, all the unions – even those who ratified the deal – would honor the picket lines. That move could halt more than just freight trains, putting commuter systems that run on freight-owned tracks on pause as well.
Should a strike occur, Congress could take any number of measures within the Railway Labor Act to get trains running again. According to NPR, that could include imposing a smaller version of the contract or even extending the status quo, a move that would mean the decision falls on the next Congress.
“American businesses and families are already facing increased prices due to persistent inflation, and a rail strike will create greater inflationary pressures and will threaten business resiliency,” Shay said. “Congress must intervene immediately to avoid a rail strike and a catastrophic shutdown of the freight rail system.”
According to a report from the Association of American Railroads, a nationwide rail shutdown could bring nearly 7,000 freight trains to a halt and cost more than $2 billion a day.