Third union rejects contract as rail agreement deadline looms

A third union rejected its labor agreement with railroads on Monday, fuelling concerns the nation may face a rail strike or lockout in December.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, which represents approximately 300 rail workers, has agreed to maintain service until Dec. 9 as part of a “cooling off” period. The union said it will continue to negotiate with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents railroads in bargaining.

“The Boilermakers union fully expects to continue negotiating further toward a satisfactory contract in the future with the NCCC,” the union said in a statement.

The rejection comes as the industry’s two largest unions are set to conclude voting on their agreements Nov. 21. SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represent half of all unionized rail employees, according to the NCCC.

Two other unions have so far voted to reject their agreements and are asking carriers to include paid sick leave in the contract. Railroads have resisted, saying they continue to negotiate using the framework of Biden administration’s presidential emergency board, which declined to include paid sick leave in its final recommendations.

A freight rail shutdown could occur as soon as Dec. 4 after the third largest union —  Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, or BMWED — agreed to extend its cooling off period to align timelines with the other union that rejected its agreement. If either of the two largest unions vote down their agreements, the cooling off period will be further extended to Dec. 9.

The BMWED does not plan to adjust its timeline despite the boilermakers’ vote, Peter Kennedy, the union’s strategic coordination and research, told Supply Chain Dive.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the vote breakdown or if the union will press for paid sick leave.

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