According to The Hill, the White House-brokered agreement that President Joe Biden claimed victory over last week to avert a railroad strike now has the potential to fall apart, threatening widespread economic disruption right before the midterm elections.
Regardless of Biden putting on quite the spectacle in Johnstown, Pennslyvania on Wednesday, in what appeared to look like a victory lap for railroad workers, nothing has been decided yet, only a “tentative agreement.” Rail workers are set to vote on the tentative deal reached between unions and railroads Thursday morning. If any of the 12 rail unions fail to ratify a new contract, nearly 125,000 rail workers could be headed for a strike.
The Hill reported that the agreement would mandate two-person crews, cap health care costs, and allow workers to take time off for medical appointments or other scheduled events without being penalized, all key concessions won by unions.
The deal also provides 24 percent raises over five years, back pay, and cash bonuses, similar terms to those offered by the White House-appointed presidential emergency board (PEB) last month.
But nearly 36 hours after the agreement was announced, rail workers said they still didn’t have concrete details on sick leave and voluntarily assigned days off. Serious doubts have been raised about just how strong the new contract language is, despite Biden reassuring and misleading railroad employees that it was pretty much a done deal.
Ron Kaminkow, an organizer at Railroad Workers United, which represents rank-and-file railroaders, said that there’s “a lot of anger, confusion, and hostility” toward the new agreement, which many workers feel is intentionally vague.
“Workers are pissed off and this time we actually have a lot of leverage,” said a locomotive engineer at Norfolk Southern who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “I know I’m not going to accept anything less than what we deserve.”
The two largest rail unions warned during negotiations that their members wouldn’t approve a contract that doesn’t quell outrage over unpredictable scheduling, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of sick leave, The Hill reported.
For the strike threat to end, workers would need to feel that the proposed contract is far stronger than the deal offered by the PEB. A survey of rail workers at the SMART Transportation Division found that nearly 8 in 10 would have voted to reject that contract.
OUCH, Joe! Looks like you haven’t even come close to putting together the right deal. Might want to hold off next until the deal is actually done before taking that victory lap.