On July 15, President Joe Biden blocked a freight railroad strike in Omaha, Nebraska. This strike would disrupt the already fragile supply chain by delaying the shipment of goods for at least 60 days.
The appointed Presidential Emergency Board gave the 12 unions involved a 124-page report outlining the terms they suggest.
Both sides have 30 days to review the report and negotiate the terms. If, after 60 days, the two parties cannot find a middle ground Congress will step in and take action.
“It is in the best interests of all stakeholders — including customers, employees and the public — for the railroads and rail labor organizations to settle this dispute and prevent service disruptions,” said the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents the railroads.
What are the unions requesting?
Union workers are asking for increased wages due to record high inflation and for railroad networks to not cut the two-person train crew to one person as this would vastly increase the workload for individuals. This would also make it significantly more difficult to apply for time off due to increased workload and strict workplace rules.
Union workers expected a raise when they found out the railroad recorded profit in recent years due to cutting 1/3 of their employees over the past 6 years.
On the other end of the argument, railroads said the double-digit raises they are offering over the course of a 5-year contract are more than fair based on what other companies offer.
Agreeing to a new arrangement could result in the railroads hiring more people, which they say they are struggling with. In order to keep up with increased demand, they would need to hire hundreds of new employees.
Presidential Emergency Board Suggestions
If you’re curious about what the 124-page report says, have no fear, I read it so you don’t have to.
One of the biggest suggestions was a 24% raise for the 115,000 rail workers.
The group that represents the unions said that even though the report issued by the Presidential Emergency Board that Joe Biden appointed last month calls for higher raises than the companies had proposed, they want to reach an agreement to avoid a strike.
In a Twitter post, the union’s representatives said the report does not make enough of an attempt to address the main concerns.
While the unions are still reviewing the report, the main issues they do not see a solution for are the restrictive attendance policies and demanding work conditions that make it hard to take time off.
“It’s clear academic politically motivated labor mediators are out of touch with the reality of working conditions on the railroad today. They chose capital over the needs of workers and our nation,” Union Pacific engineer Ross Grooters said on Twitter.
Additionally, there are major disputes surrounding wages and benefits, but the unions are also showing disapproval over the railroad’s proposal to cut train crews from two-person crews to a one-person crew, arguing it is a safety issue, not a job issue.
This has been a two-year-long battle without an agreement and rail workers haven’t had a raise since 2019. Fingers crossed the parties are able to make a deal to avoid a strike because if a strike does happen, we will see major disruptions to goods all over the United States.
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