Nov 22, 2022
Major railway workers union rejects new contract sparking renewed fears of a strike Transcript
One of the largest railway worker unions voted to reject a contract deal brokered by the Biden administration in September. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1 (00:00):
One of the nation’s largest railroad workers unions narrowly voted to reject a contract brokered by the White House.
Speaker 2 (00:07):
The no vote means thousands of workers could go on strike in a matter of weeks if another deal is not reached. Seven railroad unions voted to approve the deal, but these new contracts need approval from all 12 unions to prevent a strike. A strike by the way, could be catastrophic for the US economy costing the country up to $2 billion every day the workers are on strike.
Speaker 1 (00:31):
Richard Edelman joins us now. He’s an attorney for the Railroad Union, BMWED, one of the unions that voted against the contract. Richard, I’m so glad you’re here because I’m just curious about what didn’t make it into the contract that the union you work with rejected.
Richard Edelman (00:50):
A major issue that contributed to the not ratification of these agreements was the lack of paid sick leave. Most railroad workers have no paid sick leave. And the experience of the pandemic obviously highlighted that as a major shortcoming of existing collective bargaining agreements, and that contributed to that.
Now, I should point out, you noted that seven unions had ratified. You should know that when you add together smart transportation, which failed ratification today, brought their names away, the signalmen, that’s over 50% of railroad workers.
Speaker 2 (01:32):
Okay. So what you’re saying is it’s 50% rejection, so an overall popular rejection here of the contract in question. You mentioned the paid sick leave. The deal which the Biden administration helped broker did include a pay bump of 24%. I hear just in reading through this story and around it that there’s dissatisfaction with that, which sounds like a healthy bump because the rail companies themselves are making billions in profit. What is the calculation? Because a lot of people hear 24% pay increase and they think, “Hey, that’s great.”
Richard Edelman (02:07):
Well, first of all, you have to A) recognize that that’s 24% over a five year period. B) this three years in so far, the employees have not had any increase. So they’re been suffering with that. C) that 24% may or may not keep up with the current rate of inflation over this period. So while certainly nobody’s going to sneeze at a 24% increase, it’s not like that’s a big magnanimous amount.
By the way, that came as a recommendation from a presidential emergency board that was appointed by President Biden. It wasn’t broken by the Biden administration. The board made these recommendations. They’re not binding. They’re not binding on the unions or on the carriers or a basis for negotiations.
Our unions have said, the unions that rejected the contract, their members did have said, “We think it could ratify with paid sick leave.” Remember that the union leaderships do not just sign agreements. They have to be ratified by the members. The union, after you’re referring to all night session with several of the unions in September that the Biden administration put together, that was enough to put it out for ratification. But the memberships and those unions that have rejected it have spoken and they said that’s not enough. And what the unions have heard is there needs to be paid sick leave as part of their working conditions.
The seniors showing there now are where that was, the administration got some things put together that were deemed good enough to put out for the members to vote on. But now you have the members’ reaction in those organizations that did reject it.
Speaker 1 (04:00):
And Richard, that has been, I mean the paid sick leave and sick leave in general has been such a big issue as we’ve been reporting on this situation for a long time. I understand that President Biden said he’s going to be addressing this today. But if a deal isn’t reached, I understand that Congress will have to step in and that lawmakers could have the power to impose contract terms if both sides can’t reach an agreement. First of all, do you see that happening? What would be the risks of that happening?
Richard Edelman (04:31):
Congress has authority under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution to step in and legislate a resolution and their authority to do that dates back to 1918. That’s not something under the Railway Labor Act. That’s something that Congress can do as part of its constitutional authority. They can do that and they can impose terms and they have done that in the past, over the decades on and off. We hope that if they do that, we urge them to ensure that there be some paid sick leave for railroad workers because it’s way past time for that to happen.
Speaker 2 (05:09):
I mean this threat of a strike and the projection, the estimate, you hear about billions in losses for the overall US economy. People hear that and that sounds real bad. I mean, do you think that’s an accurate number?
Richard Edelman (05:24):
Two things. I have no idea if that’s an accurate number. Two, it doesn’t have to happen. The railroads can give us the paid sick leave, which is an infinitesimal amount of the profits they are making. I think we have a number of somewhere it’s like a penny on a dollar of what their profits are. They have been so phenomenally profitable over recent years, it’s hard to even calculate. And they’ve been forking over stock buybacks to the shareholders just on a consistent basis. It’s like $55 billion over one period. I mean I could run through it with you the triple digit profits they’ve been making over the last 15 years, and this is a drop in the bucket on that and it’s way past time for them to do that after their workers work straight through the pandemic.
The other thing I would point out that the railroads themselves have been providing poor service to their shippers at a cost to the US economy already. And one of the things that could help improve railroad service is for them to treat their workers properly and give them benefits that millions of workers throughout the United States economy already have.
Speaker 2 (06:37):
Yeah. This will sound faintly ridiculous from a guy in a tie with makeup on under the lights, but not long ago, I had the opportunity to spend time at conductor training schools, some sort of academy that BNSF runs near Glacier National Park. I was out there with the conductors as they were working, as they were learning the job. It’s difficult work.
Speaker 1 (06:55):
Speaker 2 (06:56):
It’s important work. It’s dangerous work. And I hope everybody can, at the end of the day, get what they feel they are fairly owed. Richard Edelman-
Richard Edelman (07:05):
We hope so too. And that’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish.
Speaker 2 (07:09):
Richard Edelman, thank you very much.
Richard Edelman (07:11):