Reported by Joanna Marsh for Freightwaves.
A new labor agreement between U.S. freight railroads and the railroad unions may not appear anytime soon, both sides hinted late Tuesday following a federal regulator’s decision to halt mediation efforts.
Freight railroads, including the Class I railroads, and the railroad unions have been embroiled in disagreements over a contract since January 2020, with the National Mediation Board (NMB) stepping in earlier this year to mediate. The NMB is an independent federal agency that mediates labor agreements for the railway and airline industries.
According to the railroads and the unions, the NMB has ended mediation and is offering binding arbitration. Both parties are required to respond by Thursday on whether they will accept this option, but that appears unlikely.
The unions have been advocating recently to be released from mediation so that the proceeding can continue to advance, per the Railway Labor Act. They contend that the sides are at an impasse.
“After more than three years of bad faith negotiations by the railroads, it is unfortunate but not surprising that contract agreements were not achieved through voluntary mediation. The railroads’ offer of a net pay cut and demand for health care concessions are wholly unacceptable,” Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan said in a statement on behalf of 37 affiliated unions.
Regan also said rail labor will reject the offer of binding arbitration because rank-and-file union members would not have the option to vote on labor contracts under binding arbitration.
“We will continue to adhere to the letter of the law in the contract negotiation process, while rail workers — who have not received a pay raise in three years — continue their work as frontline pandemic heroes who are moving cargo and goods through the supply chain,” Regan continued.
Said Arthur Maratea, national president of the Transportation Communications Union/International Association of Machinists: “After three years of needless stalling from rail carriers, the National Mediation Board has found that a voluntary agreement is simply not possible. We look forward to continuing to advocate forcefully for our membership in this new stage of negotiations.”
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