There’s been a flurry of activity this week involving the Class I railroads (the largest “brand name” railroads) – BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern to name a few. The railway leadership is preparing for what may be an inevitable strike by 12 unions that have banded together during the contract negotiations.
“Any injury to one is an injury to all”
The Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), established July 17, is almost out of time to get unions to sign off on a new contract. Currently at the time of writing, eight of the 12 unions involved, with over 115,000 members, have tentatively agreed to terms with the railroads and are moving to ratify the contracts.
The remaining groups – the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLE-T) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD), are still in talks with the PEB negotiators, saying the agreement does not do enough for “quality of life” for their members.
This brings us to the time-honored slogan of the unions, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Even if the PEB and corporate negotiators get 99.9% percent of the unions to tentatively agree, would the whole house of cards that has been built over the past few weeks fall apart if there is still a single group holding out?
Congress plans to step in to block a strike
U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the second highest-ranking member of the House of Representatives, declared on Bloomberg TV that Congress has plans to step in and block a strike by rail unions if a strike begins. Congress has the power to ban any strikes and force both sides to a settlement through enacting law.
Rail unions, a big part of the Democratic Party’s voting bloc, have told their Congressmen to stay out of their way. And with the November elections set to be very harsh to the “Party of the Unions,” some speculate that they might heed their voters’ warnings.
“The Gates of Mordor are closed”
Many of the major railroad operators are sending out notices that the gates of their railyards will be closed to drayage trucks. Norfolk Southern plans to begin as early as Wednesday at noon EDT. This will be extremely harmful to trucking companies and drivers as they will not be able to work while the closure is in effect.
Some think this is a ploy to bring third parties into the fight. That could open the door for President Biden to use the Taft-Hartley Act to enact a strike ban on rail workers and force them back to their jobs.
Friday, September 16 is going to be one of those “days that will live in infamy” in the history of labor. BackTheTruckUp and FreightWaves will be monitoring the situation.