- 51% of SMART Transportation Division’s members, representing conductors, rejected the deal.
- SMART-TD can go on strike, or rail companies can lock out workers, beginning Dec. 9.
- Three other unions out of 12 involved in negotiations had already rejected the deal.
WASHINGTON — A union representing rail conductors narrowly voted to reject a collective bargaining agreement orchestrated by the Biden administration, moving one step closer to a freight rail strike that appeared averted two months ago.
SMART Transportation Division, representing about 28,000 conductors, rejected the deal early Monday, while a separate union representing rail engineers –the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen – voted to ratify the five-year agreement.
The split among the two largest rail unions comes after three smaller unions already rejected the agreement with rail companies that was brokered by the White House in September. All 12 freight rail unions must approve a new contract for ratification.
“It’s now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-TD, adding that he believes issues can be resolved without a strike. “The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do.”
Tick tock:Pressure mounts on Biden to avert freight rail strike as union deadline looms
A status quo contract is in place until Dec. 8. SMART-TD can go on strike, or rail companies can lock out workers, beginning Dec. 9 if an agreement is not reached. Congress has the power to intervene to set a contract if parties don’t reach a deal.
A rail strike or lockout in December could paralyze the economy by halting the shipment of many foods and other critical goods before the holiday season.
“Let’s be clear, if the remaining unions do not accept an agreement, Congress should be prepared to act and avoid a disastrous $2 billion a day hit to our economy, said Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, which represents the nation’s largest freight companies.
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The White House did not immediately comment on the disagreement.
The proposed contract, which President Joe Biden helped negotiate after a three-year stalemate, includes a 24% pay increase over five years, voluntary assigned days off, one additional paid day off, guaranteed time away and medical visits and no disruptions to current health care plans.
Monday’s vote on the contract from rail conductors was razor close, with 51% of union members voting to reject the deal. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which has about 57,000 members, voted 53.5%-46.5% to approve the deal.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.