Major Rail Union Rejects Contract, Renews Fears for December Strike

One of the largest railroad unions has rejected a proposed agreement with railroad management, reigniting fears of a potential strike next month.

Train and engine service members of SMART-TD, one of the two largest railroad labor unions, rejected the proposed contract. SMART-TD yardmaster members and BLET, the other largest union, voted in favor of the deal. In total, eight out of 12 unions have ratified the agreement thus far.

A strike could commence as soon as Dec. 9 if an agreement between the unions and railroad management is not reached. In the event of a strike, BLET and the other rail unions that have ratified agreements said they will strike in solidarity with the remaining unions.

“This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike,” said SMART-TD president Jeremy Ferguson in a statement. “A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.”

Three other unions, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way-Employes Division (BMWED), the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB) also recently rejected proposals as well. BRS could commence a strike as soon as Dec. 5, but said it would move its start date to align with the other unions.

According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), a strike could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day. AAR and other trade groups have recommended that Congress impose recommendations for resolution via the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), which was created to help settle the dispute.

“Railroads stand ready to reach new deals based upon the PEB framework with our remaining unions, but the window continues to narrow as deadlines rapidly approach,” said AAR president and CEO Ian Jefferies in a statement.

The National Retail Federation also issued a statement on Monday, urging Congress to intervene to avoid a rail strike and “catastrophic shutdown” of the U.S. freight system.

“Smooth and stable operations on the rails is absolutely crucial this holiday season and should not be derailed by a rejection of the contract,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “The parties must work out the issues and ratify the contract without a disruption to the system. If not, Congress must step in to prevent a strike before the end of the cooling off period on December 8.”

Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA) is also urged Congress to help avoid a rail strike.

“Shutting down freight rail right before the holiday season would be devastating for American families and businesses,” said FDRA’s VP of government affairs Thomas Crockett in a statement. “It would create uncertainty, drive up costs, and worsen inflation. Congress must be prepared to take action to ensure a railroad strike does not happen.”

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