U.S. freight railroads rejected a new sick leave proposal from a train maintenance workers union that is threatening to strike in less than 30 days without a new labor agreement.
The Union of Road Maintenance Workers announced last week that its members had rejected an interim labor agreement reached in September as soon as November 19, setting the stage for a strike if a new agreement cannot be reached.
BMWED proposed seven paid sick days — up to 56 hours a year — as part of a new contract agreement, which was flatly rejected by the railroads, according to Peter Kennedy, BMWED director of strategic coordination and research.
“It’s absolutely heavy,” Kennedy said.
The National Railway Labor Conference, which represents the railways, said the previous interim agreement voted by BMWED members earlier this month was “the most generous pay package in almost 50 years of national rail negotiations”.
“BMWED leadership is demanding additional benefits and threatening to strike, this time on the grounds that unionized workers are not allowed to take sick leave,” the NRLC statement read.
If the union were to strike, other freight railroad unions are expected to honor their picket lines, bringing the nation’s major freight railroads to a halt and halting the movement of 30 percent of the nation’s freight.
The railroad management statement said rail unions have repeatedly agreed in previous contracts that short-term furloughs would go unpaid for longer days in exchange for higher compensation for days worked and more generous sick benefits. He said it has been endorsed by other railway unions they are dealt with in the current sick leave policy.
According to Kennedy, the union’s latest proposal was based on sick leave policy for federal employees. Paid sick time would accrue at one hour for every 30 hours worked. Railroads can recover hours from employees if they find that the hours were not actually used for sick leave.
“Members are very upset — they feel disenfranchised and undervalued by the railroads,” Kennedy said.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume in the next two weeks. Both sides are issuing warnings.
“Now is not the time to present new demands that revive the possibility of a rail strike. Carriers have informed BMWED that they will not accept its latest proposal,” the NRLC said in a statement.
The union said it wants to reach an agreement before time runs out, but “personally I have my doubts,” Kennedy said of the timely deal.
BMWED represents 23,000 rail workers, and is the third largest rail workers’ union.