By Eric Kulisch
The nation's freight rail system avoided disruption when railroads and a holdout union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, reached tentative agreement on a labor deal.
Agreement was necessary by Feb. 8, the deadline for parties to be allowed to take measures into their own hands through a strike or lockout. The compromise also kept Congress from intervening and imposing contract terms. Among the issues at play was healthcare benefits.
Earlier in the day, two other unions representing dispatchers and signalmen ratified their contracts negotiated with the National Carriers' Conference Committee (NCCC), which represents 30 railroads in bargaining. Twelve of the 13 major rail unions have now ratified their contracts that their leadership agreed to in December.
“These agreements demonstrate that voluntary bargaining continues to work in the rail industry,” A. Kenneth Gradia, chairman of the NCCC, said in a statement. “The carriers and the unions, with the critical support of the National Mediation Board, have resolved their differences, ensuring they will continue to work together to help drive America’s economic growth today and in the future.”
Shippers played a role keeping pressure on the talks by contacting their members of Congress about the impact any service disruption would have on their companies and the economy. Lawmakers had draft legislation prepared that would have forced rail employees back to work under terms drawn up an executive branch board.