A union representing over 20,000 workers who build and maintain tracks rejected its tentative contract agreement with U.S. freight railroads on Monday, renewing fears of a work stoppage that could send shockwaves through supply chains.
Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes will now enter a “status quo” period as the union reengages railroads in bargaining. The National Railway Labor Conference, which is representing railroads in negotiations, said in a statement that the “failed ratification does not present risk of an immediate service disruption.”
Around 56% of members who submitted ballots voted to reject the agreement, which was brokered by the Biden administration and included a 14.1% pay raise effective upon ratification. The union, part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, represents nearly 22,860 Class I rail workers, a spokesperson confirmed.
“Railroaders are discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard,” President Tony Cardwell said in a statement, noting that members voted in record numbers. “Railroaders do not feel valued.”
The union will maintain its “status quo” period until 5 days after Congress reconvenes. Four of 12 rail unions have ratified agreements so far, and the remainder will hold votes sometime before Nov. 20, according to a NRLC timeline.
Lawmakers are set to return to Washington on Nov. 14, and congressional members could force unions to accept the recommendations put forward by the presidential emergency board. If that were to happen, workers could lose benefits around sick days and attendance policies that were included in the tentative agreement, but not in the board’s recommendations.
“You should be aware that Congress could again be poised to impose the bare PEB recommendations without the enhancements we have negotiated if ratification fails,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division, said in a video message to members.