Major Rail Union Rejects White House-Brokered Proposal

As the membership of a maintenance-and-construction union reset the countdown to a potential work stoppage, negotiators return to the bargaining table.

Long train in Valentine, Arizona. (ERIC SALARD, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Julia Conley
Common Dreams

A union representing railroad maintenance and construction workers on Monday announced that its members have rejected the tentative agreement reached last month between unions and rail carriers, putting pressure on the carriers to offer a better deal to workers in order to avoid a nationwide strike in the coming weeks.

Reporting a turnout of 11,845 members, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) said that 6,646 people had voted against ratifying the agreement and 5,100 had supported the deal, which was brokered last month with the help of the Biden administration’s Presidential Emergency Board. Ninety-nine ballots were returned blank or were voided due to user errors.

The tentative agreement reached last month would include one additional paid day off and permit workers to take unpaid days to receive medical care without being penalized by carriers’ strict attendance policies — two key concessions from the companies, as railroad workers’ unions had expressed deep dissatisfaction with attendance rules and a lack of any paid sick time.

The deal also would include a 24 percent pay raise between 2020 and 2024 and would freeze workers’ monthly contributions for their healthcare plans.

After the tentative agreement was reached on Sept. 15, the railroad sector’s unions agreed not to strike as workers across the industry voted on the deal.

Now, said the BMWED — the nation’s third-largest rail workers’ union and a division of the Teamsters — on Monday, a work stoppage could begin as early as Nov. 19, depending on the upcoming votes by other unions.

Labor Notes journalist Jonah Furman called the BMWED vote “a huge deal,” as a strike by the union’s members “would shut down the national rail freight system” by itself.

The last nationwide railway shutdown took place in 1992, when a single union voted against a contract agreement and went on strike.

Monday’s announcement could potentially sway the members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which is also a Teamsters affiliate, and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) — two rail unions which have been negotiating a fair contract with carriers for several years and which will vote on the tentative deal in the coming weeks.

Donate Today to CN’s

2022 Fall Fund Drive

“This thing ain’t over yet,” tweeted Jack Girard, a railroad worker. “BMWED’s rejection will probably embolden SMART and BLET members who were on the fence.”

Tony D. Cardwell, president of the BMWED, said in a statement that the vote signifies that despite U.S. President Joe Biden’s positive outlook following the tentative agreement — which earned the White House praise from the corporate media last month for helping the country avoid a strike and a major disruption to the economy — rail workers continue to be “discouraged and upset with working conditions and compensation and hold their employer in low regard.”

Rail carriers, as Common Dreams reported last month, have seen their profits soar in recent years as workers have labored without a contract, earning stagnant wages.

[Related: The Crisis in US Railroads]

Railroad worker. (Rennett Stowe, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

“Railroaders do not feel valued,” said Cardwell. “The result of this vote indicates that there is a lot of work to do to establish goodwill and improve the morale that has been broken by the railroads’ executives and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

“The membership voted in record numbers on this tentative agreement, exhibiting that they are paying close attention and are engaged in the process,” Cardwell added. “BMWED members are concerned with the direction of their employers and the mismanagement and greed in which they have consistently implemented, and are united in their resolve to improve their working conditions across the entire Class I rail network.”

With the union rejecting the agreement, the BMWED entered a “status quo” period Monday, with negotiators returning to the bargaining table with freight carriers.

“That status quo period will extend to five days after Congress reconvenes, which is currently set for November 14,” said the union, noting that if an agreement is not reached by then, workers could resort to “self-help,” or a strike, on Nov. 19 at the earliest.

An internal poll taken by SMART-TD after the tentative deal was reached showed that 78 percent of members wanted the union to reject the agreement “and ultimately let Congress decide the National Rail Contract.”

The vote announced Monday shows that BMWED “members are fed up with the carriers’ abusive work practices,” said the grassroots movement Teamsters for the Democratic Union, and are “ready to demand more.”

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

Donate Today to CN’s

2022 Fall Fund Drive

Donate securely by credit card or check by clicking the red button:




6 comments for “Major Rail Union Rejects White House-Brokered Proposal

  1. vinnieoh
    October 12, 2022 at 13:18

    I don’t want to appear hypercritical, but a much better article/explanation is needed.
    For starters:

    What are the reasons/issues why the proposed contract was rejected (though vote was fairly close)?

    Why would any labor union want to let the entirely corporate owned US Congress decide the shape of their employment contract? This makes no sense to me: can someone here explain? Unless I’ve completely misunderstood which “congress” is being referenced, said corporate/bank friendly US legislature is likely to dictate a much less generous deal, in addition to imposing criminal penalties for “causing undue harm to the US economy.” …Or some such.

  2. Redd Flagg
    October 12, 2022 at 12:04

    There is a second revealing fact about modern American unions in this piece. “would include a 24 percent pay raise between 2020 and 2024”.

    This union is now negotiating, and threatening a strike, in 2022, over pay rates in 2020. Seriously?

    Would you as a worker volunteer to come in to work a job, only with a promise to discuss at some future date, now apparently two years into the future, what the pay rate will be for your labor? Would you seriously be negotiating today with a Boss over what you are going to be paid for work you did two years ago?

    To the extent that the union negotiates working conditions, work schedules and important safety issues around work that can be dangerous to both the workers and the general public, are they going to retroactively accomplish this in some fashion? How? Are they going to undo some derailments that occurred in this time? This I gotta see. Hey, we just signed a new contract … you’ll be getting back that arm you lost a year ago. Any day now, as soon as the paperwork goes through. You’ll just wake up, and it will be good as new, like you were never even in that accident.

    Yep, that’s a union that cares. Negotiating worker’s safety two years after the fact.

  3. Redd Flagg
    October 12, 2022 at 11:29

    Notice carefully what you do not hear from a modern American ‘union’. Sometimes what you don’t hear is important, like Sherlock and the dog that did not bark.

    After a contract is rejected, what one would expect in a union that actually represents the workers would be a series of meetings between the bargaining committee and the workers in order to find out what the workers want in a contract that they would then approve. If the union is representing the workers, this would appear to be a mandatory step.

    The negotiators were obviously wrong in agreeing to a contract proposals that the workers would not accept, thus what is required is meetings between the negotiators and the workers so the negotiators can now know what the workers require and negotiate that for them. If the negotiators just negotiated a deal that was rejected by nearly 60% of the workers (according to votes counted entirely the union), then obviously the union urgently needs to talk to the workers and find out what the workers will accept. The negotiating committee sure did not know the last time around.

    Instead, the union leadership announces talks with the Bosses. No sign in any of this article that the ‘union leaders’ will actually talk to the workers. Nope, they run back into the room with the Bosses and try to find a plan to force the workers to accept what the Bosses (and Joe Biden and the Democrats) demand. That’s the role of a modern American ‘union’.

  4. GoLeft2022
    October 12, 2022 at 11:19

    In mid-September Biden proclaimed that the tentative deal that he made with railroad workers to avert a national strike was a “big win for America” and “a great deal for both sides.” But outside of a handful of left-leaning platforms, there was little mention of what the workers’ basic demands were and no sense given as to how far the deal fell short of meeting them. In fact the workers were widely demonized by the media as posing a threat to the national economy (and Biden’s political prospects) while their concerns over punishing and unsafe schedules and denial of sick leave went unreported.

    The Democrats have long been criticized for “failing to get their message out” about things they have accomplished, and historically there is truth in that. In recent months, though, the Biden administration has been overcompensating by energetically messaging spurious victories such as this one, showing how much it is relying on mere marketing to sell itself to the public.

  5. Packard
    October 12, 2022 at 08:31


    Not that it matters, but where have Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, & Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo been hiding throughout all of these railway negotiations? Was there anyone who was someone in the Biden Administration who led any of these critical negotiations? Their silence among the MSM and Silicon Valley is notable.

    Or were Biden’s cabinet secretaries just too darn distracted with their necessary political talks of climate change doom, EV purchases, abortions for every citizen, and gay advocacy in Disney World? D*MN!

    • robert e williamson jr
      October 12, 2022 at 18:27

      Yup, yer right! Not!

      Not that this matters, but this is kinda like the absolute total absence of commercials announcing the nation wide Roger Waters tour.

      That said climate change “doom” is a very real possibility, EV purchases are coming no matter who holds the White House, abortions are not for everyone pal, something most of us are aware of and gay advocacy is trending and not going away.

      Never mind, I’m sure you wouldn’t understand! Have a nice day.

      Thanks CN

Comments are closed.