Railroad carriers reach tentative agreement with unions, avoiding Friday strike

GILLETTE, Wyo. — There will be no train unions strike Friday, Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, or SMART-TD Local 465 Chairperson Kevin Knutson told County 17 in a voicemail at 7:12 a.m.

“At 2:30 a.m. this morning, we reached a tentative agreement and we’ll see what happens with that,” Knutson said. “It does mean that there won’t be a strike at midnight or afterwards so we’ll see what comes of this one.”

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, or BLET, and SMART-TD, said in a statement today that the unions will now begin submitting that agreement to members for a ratification vote.

Knutson told County 17 at 11:05 a.m. that the soonest a strike could occur, if workers didn’t accept the agreement union leadership have arranged, would be in a month.

BLET and SMART-TD said it’s the first time the unions were able to receive negotiated contract language exempting time off for certain medical events from carrier attendance policies. Members can take time away from work to attend to routine and preventive medical care and hospitalizations and surgical procedures. Members in thru freight service will have voluntary assigned days off and all members will have an additional paid day off.

Health and Welfare Plan copays and deductibles won’t increase and point-of-service costs won’t change, and members’ monthly health care contributions won’t rise while the parties bargain over the next national agreement.

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“SMART-TD was successful in blocking the carriers’ attempts to fast track arbitration on crew-consist agreements, protecting two-person crews for the indefinite future,” the statement said. “The Carriers’ demands for increases in point-of-service health care costs were blocked, along with their demands to charge married employees with children more for monthly health care contributions.”

Wages would immediately increase 14% once compounded with an additional 4% on July 1, 2023, and 4.5% on July 1, 2024. Wage increases of 3% effective July 1, 2020, 3.5% effective July 1, 2021, and 7% effective July 1, 2022, will be fully retroactive, for a compounded increase of 24% over the 5-year term of the agreement. The agreement also includes annual lump-sum bonus payments of $5,000. Members will receive back pay checks in the coming weeks, through retroactive application of general wage increases and performance bonuses, according to the statement.

These are the highest general wage increases over the life of the agreement in over 45 years, the statement said.

Negotiations took more than 20 hours, the statement said.

“The solidarity shown by our members, essential workers to this economy who keep America’s freight trains moving, made the difference in our Unions obtaining agreement provisions that exceeded the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board,” the statement said. “We listened when our members told us that a final agreement would require improvements to their quality of life as well as economic gains.”

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Combined, the BLET and SMART-TD represent about 125,000 active and retired rail employees. Roughly half of their membership is employed at Class I railroads involved in the agreement.

Railroads have reached tentative agreements with all of the 12 unions in national bargaining, and two of the unions have ratified the agreements with their members, according to the National Railway Labor Conference’s FAQ, which was updated today. The National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the nation’s freight railroads in national collective bargaining, is part of the National Railway Labor Conference.

The carriers also reached an agreement with the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, a statement from the carriers said.

The agreements follow the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations, which include a 24% wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024 — with a 14.1% wage increase effective immediately — and five annual $1,000 lump sum payments, the FAQ said.

Knutson is a Burlington Northern Santa Fe employee.

Mary Stroka is the Community Reporter for County 17. She's new to Wyoming and has loved getting to know the area. She covers crime, education, faith, government, and policy for County 17. Feel free to contact her at mary@county17.com with your news tips and ideas.