OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A fifth union has now ratified its deal with the major freight railroads just days after one of the largest rail unions rejected their tentative agreement.
The Mechanical and Engineering Department of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation workers union voted Wednesday to approve its five-year contract that includes 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses. Now five of the 12 rail unions have approved their agreements with the railroads and a sixth one is set to vote Thursday, but all 12 have to endorse their deals to prevent a strike that would devastate the economy.
Fears of a strike were renewed earlier this week when the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union voted down its contract, but there is no immediate threat of a walkout because that union agreed to delay any action until at least mid November to allow time to renegotiate a new deal.
The agreements the unions are voting on include the largest raises workers have seen in more than four decades, but the tentative deals don't resolve most of the members' quality of life concerns about strict schedules, the lack of paid time off and demanding workloads after the railroads eliminated some 45,000 jobs over the past six years.
The negotiations included roughly 115,000 workers at Norfolk Southern, CSX, BNSF, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern and other railroads.
The general president of the SMART-MD union, Joseph Sellers Jr., promised to keep fighting to get workers the "wages, benefits and working conditions that they deserve for keeping the American economy running."
The railroads play such an important role delivering raw materials and finished products that most businesses rely on that President Joe Biden intervened in the contract talks last month and put pressure on both sides to reach agreements before a mid-September strike deadline.