US railroad workers vote down proposed contract

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A strike could freeze up to 30 percent of freight traffic as workers complain about quality of life problems.

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Members of the largest railroad union in the US voted against a potential contract, raising the possibility of a strike.

In a vote on Monday, train and engine maintenance workers at the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Aviation, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) rejected a tentative deal struck in September.

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“The ball is now on the side of the railroads. Let’s see what they do. They can work it out at the negotiating table,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in an interview. statement.

Union voters cited unresolved quality-of-life issues, including tight schedules, among the reasons for rejecting the deal.

Railroad companies, meanwhile, have refused to budge on issues such as paid sick leave and have not indicated they are willing to restart talks, raising the possibility that Congress will intervene to avoid a massive strike that could disrupt the country’s supply chain.

The vote comes amid a surge in trade unionism in the US as workers push for higher wages and better working conditions.

While SMART-TD members rejected the contract on Monday, another major railroad union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive and Train Workers (BLET), voted in favor of it. Both unions, along with 10 smaller unions, must approve new contracts to avoid a strike.

Seven of the 12 unions had previously approved the deal. Three voted against but agreed to extend the strike deadline until early December.

The deal is tied to an emergency council convened by US President Joe Biden earlier this year to avoid costly disruptions to transportation. The shutdown of railroads could freeze up to 30 percent of US freight by weight, affecting various sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and retail.

In August, Biden’s presidential emergency council released a 124-page report laying the groundwork for a five-year deal. The offer includes a cumulative 24 percent worker allowance and a $5,000 bonus over five years. The railroads called the agreement “the most generous payroll package in almost 50 years”.

The US Congress has the power to impose contract terms if an agreement is not reached in time to avoid a strike. Business groups urged Biden, who helped secure a tentative contract in September, to be ready to intervene.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre last month called the shutdown “completely unacceptable” and said “the responsibility for resolving this issue lies with the parties involved.”

The group, which is negotiating on behalf of the railroad companies, said on Monday that unions should not expect to receive more than what the emergency council has indicated.

If Congress intervened, it is not clear which group would benefit from the intervention. Republican lawmakers could push unions to accept terms set out by the President’s Emergency Committee, while Democratic lawmakers could demand more concessions from railroads.

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