Largest US Rail Union Rejects White House-Brokered Contract

SMART-TD announced Monday that just over half its members rejected the proposed contract due to restrictions on workers’ ability to make routine medical appointments.   

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and President Joe Biden after Biden signed an executive order establishing a task force on worker organizing and empowerment, April 26, 2021. (White House. Adam Schultz)

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

The largest railroad workers union in the United States announced Monday that its members voted to reject a contract negotiated with the help of the Biden White House, once again raising the prospect of a major strike or lockout as employees revolt over profitable rail giants’ refusal to provide adequate paid sick leave.

The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) said in a statement that just over 50 percent of its members voted to reject the proposed contract. Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) —the second-largest rail union in the U.S. — voted to ratify the contract, the union said Monday.

If any of the rail unions decide to strike, the others have vowed to honor their picket lines. SMART-TD said a strike or lockout could begin as soon as Dec. 9.

“SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members,” said Jeremy Ferguson, the union’s president. “This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers, and the American people.”

“The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table,” Ferguson added. “But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”

Jacksonville, Florida, headquarters of CSX, one of the major rail companies operating in the U.S. (Mathew105601, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The tentative contract agreement was reached in September after marathon negotiations between the Biden White House, rail unions and rail company representatives.

As the details of the proposed deal began reaching union members, it became increasingly clear that many were furious at how little the agreement would do to alter rail companies’ punitive attendance system, under which workers can be penalized or fired for taking a day off to see the doctor.

“Press reports made it sound like the deal would create three sick days for railroad workers,” Jonah Furman of Labor Notes reported last month after the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees — the nation’s third-largest rail union — voted to reject the proposed contract.

“Once the actual language came out, what was created turned out to be something less than sick time: heavily circumscribed, unpaid time off for routine or preventative medical appointments, on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday with at least 30 days’ notice, plus no attendance penalties for hospitalization or surgery,” Furman added.

Jared Cassity, a conductor and the national legislative director at SMART-TD, told The Washington Post Monday that the union’s vote against ratifying the contract was “about the frustration that the railroads have created with [their attendance policies] and the deterioration of quality of life as a result for our conductors.”

“It’s about attendance policies, sick time, fatigue, and the lack of family time,” Cassity added. “A lot of these things that cannot be seen but are felt by our membership. It’s destroying their livelihoods.”

Jake Johnson 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.

7 comments for “Largest US Rail Union Rejects White House-Brokered Contract

  1. Carolyn L Zaremba
    November 22, 2022 at 12:17

    Form rank and file committees on the railroads! The existing unions work for the benefit of the corporations, not the workers. They are corrupt through and through.

  2. Kurt
    November 22, 2022 at 09:57

    Jeremy Ferguson, the SMART-TD President and Jared Cassity, a conductor and national legislative director at SMART-TD, are two bureaucrats only interested in protecting their six figure salaries and the union apparatus, the same apparatus selling the rank and file their used lard while they dine on the select meat.
    Ferguson is selling a shell game when he says,
    “This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers, and the American people.”
    The settlement Ferguson wants is the same deal that the Presidential Emergency Board pushed on the rank and file after they overwhelmingly voted NO on the last contract. This White House brokered deal was almost a duplicate copy of the last sell out contract and it too failed to get passed by the majority of railroaders.
    Of course Ferguson wants it settled through negotiations because the rank and file will be completely locked out of them and he can broker HIS and his apparatchiks deal that fattens their slice of the corporate pie while leaving the rank and file pulling themselves up by their imaginary bootstraps once again. This has happened time and time again over the last three years to every union that has voted down these awful contracts – Volvo Trucks, Dana, John Deere, Nabisco, Mack, dockworkers, carpenters, teachers, and nurses unions.

  3. LeoSun
    November 21, 2022 at 22:43

    It is in the best interests of the Divided $tates of Corporate America that the muckity-mucks, do the right thing,

    “GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT!!!” …i.e., Paid sick time off, A freeze on medical costs, Pay increases; and, More consistent scheduling. The focus is a human rights’ solution. A NECESSITY!!!

    “For over three years, including through the pandemic, railroad workers have labored and died without a contract, and no pay raises.”

    Imo, the resolution, take a chain saw to the f/tentacles between Biden-Harris, their Board of Executioners & The Working Class. Imo, Biden-Harris WH’s focus is Economic Warfare aka $ocial Murder. It must be aborted!!!

    The past 1 1/2 Years of Biden-Harris’ “progress,” has been 1 1/2 Years of MASS Death. The WH’s focus, to f—- Sheet Metal Workers, Air, Rail, Transportation Workers, et al., must be blocked!!!

    “A SETTLEMENT negotiated by Ferguson, Biden-Harris’ PEB (President’s Emergency Board); AND, Congress, BEHIND THE BACKS OF WORKERS, would not be in their best interests as evidenced by the previously negotiated tentative agreements.” (

    SMART-TD + BLET = 115,000 Railroaders. Obviously, SMART-TD, BLET, IBB (Brotherhood of Boilermakers), BMWED (Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees); and, BRS (Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen), The ESSENTIAL WORKING Class REJECTED the PEB agreements b/c they do NOTHING to address railroaders’ demands It’s all just “a lot of oysters, but no pearls.”

    CONCLUDING, the Right to Strike is NOW!!! (Effective, EARLY December, 2022). “Keep It Lit.”

  4. Charles K. Hof
    November 21, 2022 at 20:14

    Biden’s rhetoric has been that he wants unions. It is time he hears from the unions why they need to strike. If he wants to insert himself into the process he needs to have some good advisors and they had best listen to the demands. Biden doesn’t need a rail strike just before Christmas that is for sure.
    I think it is way past time for the media to explain just what and why this coming to a head, to gain public backing.
    From what I know it is very justified. As for the union leaders, there seems to be a disconnect regarding what the workers need and want. In short, they are not doing their job.
    Running trains over thousands of miles is not easy, it demands much of the crew. A crew of one is dangerous. It used to be a crew of five, then eventually whittled down to two.
    To deny the operators time of to care for themselves and their families is a recipe for disaster.
    Particularly since the Corporations running them are making so much money.

  5. robert e williamson jr
    November 21, 2022 at 18:47


  6. Monkey & Engineer
    November 21, 2022 at 16:03

    Amazing how today’s union bargainers don’t seem to have the slightest clue what their members want from a deal.

    Their members made this rather plain from the beginning. The issues in this article were exactly the things that railroad workers have been talking about and complaining about. There were separate actions earlier on these same lines, that were rejected by Bosses, Unions and Democrats together. These complaints have been true for a long time, but the main people who were not listening were the union leaders. The union leaders could have easily known this by simply talking to an actual worker or two, but instead they ‘negotiated’ what the Bosses and Joe Biden demanded be in the contract.

    A labor union is supposed to work in the other direction. The workers control the union, and the negotiators negotiate what the workers want. When it works in that direction, getting the final contract approved is easy because the workers have been involved all along. These unions negotiate what the Bosses want, then try to find a way to pass that with their members. I’m glad they lost that attempt.

  7. Renate
    November 21, 2022 at 15:26

    It is really no surprise, the government is not likely to risk political capital for working people.

Comments are closed.