© Dan Ross union pacific
© Dan Ross

US president Joe Biden has hailed a ‘tentative agreement’ apparently reached between rail unions and the rail companies. And the US media has been quick to talk up the agreement – but not everyone is on board with this so-called deal.

In the early hours of today (EST) the White House posted a statement from the president hailing the work of both the rail companies and the unions in reaching an agreement and averting a damaging strike.

“These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned. The agreement is also a victory for railway companies who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come,” said the president.

However, the rail unions do not appear to be on the same train journey as others in the US, or perhaps they’re in a different carriage.

The International Association of Machinists (IAM) and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalman (BRS) have both rejected the deal and with rail workers not expected to cross picket lines, the possibility of delays and cancellations remains very real.

In a statement published on 14 September IAM said that 4,900 of its members had voted to reject the deal reached with the employers’ side, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC).

According to IAM, its members had agreed to delay any strike action until 29 September in the hope that the union can negotiate changes with the NCCC.

“IAM freight rail members are skilled professionals who have worked in difficult conditions through a pandemic to make sure essential products get to their destinations. We look forward to continuing that vital work with a fair contract that ensures our members and their families are treated with the respect they deserve for keeping America’s goods and resources moving through the pandemic. The IAM is grateful for the support of those working toward a solution as our members and freight rail workers seek equitable agreements.”

Meanwhile, the BRS in its statement from 13 September, which was updated the next day, accused Union Pacific and BNSF of delaying an agreement of a deal by refusing to meet union demands over sick time.

Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, (BLET) said the companies had rejected the union’s proposals for sick time.

“The primary resistance comes from Union Pacific and BNSF because of the attendance policies they have adopted which have treated workers so poorly,” Mr Pierce told CNBC.

He added: “We’re just looking for time away from work to address our medical issues. Union Pacific and BNSF attendance policies are assessing (penalty) points to our members when they just want to take time off for their regular medical appointments.”

Meanwhile, World Socialist Website has reported: “The two unions that have not yet agreed to PEB [Presidential Emergency Board]-based agreements… [and] oversee the majority of railroad workers, around 90,000. They have not attempted to force through deals yet because they know that they will be overwhelmingly rejected by railroad workers.”

The PEB deal has recommended a 22% wage increase covering the period from 2020 to 2024 and a $5,000 bonus in $1,000 per year payments.

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