A rail strike or lockout now won’t occur until at least Dec. 4 after the country’s third-largest rail union agreed on an extended “cooling off” period to continue bargaining.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division-International Brotherhood of Teamsters said Wednesday the new deadline allows the union to align its efforts with the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, which rejected its labor agreement with carriers late last month.
The extension also allows for the two largest unions to complete their ratification process. SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen are expected to report results from their vote on Nov. 21.
If SMART-TD and BLET also reject their agreement, BMWED said it will further extend its status quo period to Dec. 9 to synchronize timelines.
BMWED's initial cooling off period was scheduled to end as soon as Nov. 19, with the deadline set for five days after Congress' return to session. The group voted down its agreement on Oct. 10 and is asking railroads for paid sick leave days. BMWED said in its Wednesday statement that railroads continue to reject all proposals for further contract additions from both unions.
The deadline extension also delays the prospect of congressional intervention if an agreement is not reached. Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Roger Wicker introduced a measure in September that would force the union to accept an agreement without the inclusion of negotiated benefits regarding away from home expenses.
“There is no other bill in congress [sic] at this time to allow us to strike,” the BMWED said in its statement. “We will now have an opportunity to educate Congress and obtain a better bill written for Railroad Workers, not the railroads.”
The union noted in its statement it was hoping to avoid potential service disruptions, saying reports indicated that railroads were planning to wind down service in the coming days. When a strike or lockout was on the table in September, railroads began limiting service days ahead of the deadline to ensure the safety of critical freight.
The BMWED said any shutdowns by railroads would be a “manipulative attempt to instigate Congress to intervene against the interests of railroad workers.”
“The railroad workers are not the problem here and are not to blame for the current situation.”
Norfolk Southern told Supply Chain Dive that it has no plans to halt service in the coming days. Union Pacific said it does not plan to make service adjustments due to the cooling off period extension, but added that the railroad “is prepared to take steps to minimize threats to safety and security as well as potential loss and damage to customer cargo if the threat of a rail strike returns.”
The National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the nation’s freight rail carriers in national collective bargaining, said in a statement Wednesday that the deadline extension “eliminates the threat of a near-term freight rail service disruption.”