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Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Association of American Railroads.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) members voted to ratify the five-year tentative contract with the nation’s largest railroads, but the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) reached a split decision in their members’ votes, the unions announced this morning.
SMART-TD train and engine service members voted to reject their proposed contract, while SMART-TD yardmaster members voted to accept it. BLET and SMART-TD are the two largest rail unions, accounting for half of the unionized workforce at the nation’s largest freight railroads.
"SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it's now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members," said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson in a press release. "This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people."
A status quo agreement between SMART-TD and management is in effect until Dec. 8. Beginning Dec. 9, SMART-TD would be allowed to go on strike or the railroads would be permitted to lock out workers unless Congress intervenes.
"The ball is now in the railroads' court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table,” Ferguson said.
If there is a strike by SMART-TD or any of the other three rail unions that have rejected proposed contracts with the carriers, BLET and the other eight rail unions that have ratified agreement have pledged to lawfully honor their picket lines.
"Railroads stand ready to reach new deals based upon the [Presidential Emergency Board 250] framework with our remaining unions, but the window continues to narrow as deadlines rapidly approach. 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 Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ian Jefferies in a press release.
The AAR has estimated a national rail strike would cost the U.S. economy about $2 billion a day.
The five-year agreement ratified by BLET members addresses pay rates, health and welfare and other fringe benefits for approximately 24,000 locomotive engineers and other rail workers represented by the union who are employed by the nation’s Class Is.
A record number of eligible BLET members participated in the ratification vote, with 54% voting in favor and 46% voting against, union officials said in a press release.
"With over two-thirds of eligible BLET members returning a ballot, a true majority of the membership has spoken and I want to thank them all for participating," said BLET President Dennis Pierce.
BLET will "continue to stand in solidarity" with SMART-TD and other rail unions, Pierce added.