Jake Johnson Union Wave Worker's Rights

Major Strike Looms as Largest Rail Union in US Rejects White House-Brokered Contract

"It's about attendance policies, sick time, fatigue, and the lack of family time," said one union official. "A lot of these things that cannot be seen but are felt by our membership. It's destroying their livelihoods."
Patrick Pelletier, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams

The largest railroad workers union in the United States announced Monday that its members voted to reject a contract negotiated with the help of the Biden White House, once again raising the prospect of a major strike or lockout as employees revolt over profitable rail giants’ refusal to provide adequate paid sick leave.

The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) said in a statement that just over 50% of its members voted to reject the proposed contract. Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)—the second-largest rail union in the U.S.—voted to ratify the contract, the union said Monday.

If any of the rail unions decide to strike, the others have vowed to honor their picket lines. SMART-TD said a strike or lockout could begin as soon as December 9.

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“SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members,” said Jeremy Ferguson, the union’s president. “This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers, and the American people.”

“The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table,” Ferguson added. “But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”

The tentative contract agreement was reached in September after marathon negotiations between the Biden White House, rail unions, and rail company representatives.

As the details of the proposed deal began reaching union members, it became increasingly clear that many were furious at how little the agreement would do to alter rail companies’ punitive attendance system, under which workers can be penalized or fired for taking a day off to see the doctor.

“Press reports made it sound like the deal would create three sick days for railroad workers,” Jonah Furman of Labor Notes reported last month after the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees—the nation’s third-largest rail union—voted to reject the proposed contract.

“Once the actual language came out, what was created turned out to be something less than sick time: heavily circumscribed, unpaid time off for routine or preventative medical appointments, on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday with at least 30 days notice, plus no attendance penalties for hospitalization or surgery,” Furman added.

Jared Cassity, a conductor and the national legislative director at SMART-TD, told The Washington Post Monday that the union’s vote against ratifying the contract was “about the frustration that the railroads have created with [their attendance policies] and the deterioration of quality of life as a result for our conductors.”

“It’s about attendance policies, sick time, fatigue, and the lack of family time,” Cassity added. “A lot of these things that cannot be seen but are felt by our membership. It’s destroying their livelihoods.”

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Jake Johnson
Jake Johnson

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.


  1. Good work Jake hi-lighting the plight of these workers! Hopefully, they strike and it spreads to all workers to shut down the country. While the Biden administration wages a proxy war in Ukraine with Russia in the hopes of distracting Americans from the real war at home on the American people which has been ongoing for the last 30 plus years. Working people must unite against this war and all war and recognize their strength as it becomes clear that the politicians who war against ordinary working people worldwide cannot sustain this in the face of mass resistance. Shut the country down!

  2. The workers have to go on strike to get rid of the Railroad Labor Act. When government makes it illegal to strike, workers have no ability to fight their capitalist enslavement. That is by design.

    1. “workers have no ability to fight their capitalist enslavement”

      Really? Is that what you believe?
      Ever see a Boss ever try to actually run a train?
      Its easy, like the Reagan’s taught us …. Just Say No. See how far that train moves once the Boss has a view only of your backside walking away.

  3. Hmmm, will this finally cause a split between the working class and the Wall Street Democrats?

    The Wall Street Democrats have already made threats as to their answer …. the strike will be outlawed, and the workers will be forced back to work under the rules set by Biden and the Bosses (and enforced by the Unions. Don’t forget this contract was recommended by the Union.)

    Will workers accept this? Or, is this the moment when the workers who’ve been supporting Wall Street say enough? The Democrat majority, slim as it is, rests on workers and progressives who vote time after time to support Wall Street and War. Will this continue? Can this continue? At what point does Wall Street try to push too far? You know they will.

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