The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB) made their demands known to President Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) on November 14th, after its members roundly rejected the ratification of a tentative agreement brokered with the major freight railroads. This makes the IBB the third labor group to turn down the deal as brokered by the Biden administration, and now the likelihood of a full-on strike is growing by the day.
As is customary, the IBB is entering into a period of no contact to allow both sides an opportunity to regain their composure and, hopefully, come back to the table with a more agreeable list of terms. On the other side of the negotiation table is the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) which is comprised of the nation’s largest railroad companies including BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific.
The IBB is in good company rejecting the deal that originally would give rail workers a 24% wage increase during a five-year period from 2020 to 2024. With the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED) also on board, there aren’t many rail workers outside of these unions for the railways to look to.
Despite the sizeable rate increase being proposed, the unions declined the offer as it does nothing to address the massive quality of life issues the workers face. From being forced to operate at full capacity with skeleton crews to a complete lack of sick time, they want to make their lives better. Given how many of them are working long distances from home, and the length of time they spend living on the road, it only makes sense that they would want a better quality of life to be covered by the union.
Speaking with Fox Business, many union members expressed their anger with their union reps for signing off on the PEB’s recommendations in September and blamed them for not doing more to improve their working conditions. If all 12 unions don’t agree on ratifying their contracts, a strike could take place. While multiple unions have agreed to continue operating as they negotiate through December, Congress is ready to step in if a work stoppage were to be triggered.
Currently, seven unions have voted to ratify their contracts, three have turned them down, and two more are set to vote before the end of the month.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has been noticeably absent from any public remarks on this agenda. Given how the potential strike could impact the situation at the ports, how semi-trucks are being used, as well as fuel and other costs across the country, it would seem natural that he would actively be involved. This also might not be a fight he is ready or willing to take on.
The railroad workers have been the backbone of American industry and innovation for decades as they connect the people of America from coast to coast. From maple syrup in Vermont to oil in Texas to salmon in Washington, railways helped make all these products move across this great land of ours for decades. While planes and even semis can be faster in 2022, the rails are still a cheaper alternative for non-time critical, oversized, or incredibly heavy materials.
With President Biden as well as the union representatives not taking the workers’ demands seriously, there is only a limited time until the strike will go from inevitable to currently going on. If they were to strike just before Christmas, this could destroy the holiday season for millions of Americans. Especially as prices would suddenly skyrocket overnight due to a lack of availability.