Thursday, December 8, 2011

Railroads, Unions Reach Contract Agreement

Two unions representing railroad engineers and dispatchers have approved new labor agreements, just days before a deadline for contract negotiations that could have resulted in a national strike against freight railroads.

The American Train Dispatchers Association and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, which represent a combined 26,500 workers, have agreed to new contracts with the National Labor Railway Conference, which bargains on behalf of railroad companies.

The agreements were announced Dec. 2, four days before the unions’ Dec. 6 deadline for talks.

Neither side has revealed details of the arrangements, but in a statement, railroad bargaining committee chair A. Kenneth Gradia said the accords give the workers wage hikes of more than 20 percent over six years.

The unions’ membership rolls include thousands of Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific workers who are involved in moving goods through ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and elsewhere on the West Coast.

The NLRC had estimated that a strike could have cost the US economy about $2 billion a day. Trains carry 43 percent of the freight volume moved between US cities and a third of all US exports, according to the railroad association.

There was so much concern over the possibility of a work stoppage that the federal government had gotten involved. In October, President Obama appointed a board to try resolving the labor dispute; and in November, members of the House of Representatives were preparing to push legislation to prevent the unions from striking.

Despite the new accords, however, there is still not complete labor peace on the railways. Another union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees, is still in negotiations with the NLRC, but has agreed to extend a so-called “cooling-off period” for negotiations from Dec. 6 to Feb. 8, after which bargaining is expected to resume.