Biden’s PEB recommends pay increases for rail workers in effort to avoid strike

Adam Yanelli


HOUSTON (ICIS)–The emergency board appointed by US President Joe Biden to help avert a possible strike by rail workers recommended significant increases to pay and benefits in its report this week, setting up a framework for continued negotiations over the next 30 days.

In a statement, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said the recommendations from the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) “markedly exceed the rail carriers’ proposal” but do provide a useful basis to reach a conclusion.

The PEB was appointed on 15 July after a vote by members of the rail workers union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), came in at 99.5% in favour of going on strike.

AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said the report sets the framework for the parties to be able to reach a negotiated agreement.

“The recommendations would provide 24% compounded wage increases by 2024, with 14.1% of those increases effective immediately, along with additional service recognition bonuses totaling $5,000 over the course of the contract,” Jefferies said. “An agreement based on these terms would lead to the largest general wage increase in nearly 40 years.”

The National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), a part of the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), is representing the nation’s freight railroads in the negotiations.

NCCC said that the recommendations would include the most substantial wage increases in decades – with average rail worker wages reaching about $110,000 per year by the end of the agreement.

“When health care, retirement, and other benefits are considered, the value of rail employees’ total compensation package, which already ranks among the highest in the nation, would average more than $150,000 per year,” the NCCC said.

BLET representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a statement on its website said leadership along with legal counsel is continuing to analyse the report and meet with all general chairmen before making a comment.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD), one of the parties on the labour side, said it is still evaluating the findings in the 124-page report.

“While other sources may rush to respond, your union is committed to sharing factual information regarding the PEB while achieving the best outcome possible for rail labor,” SMART-TD said in a statement posted to its website. “There will be additional updates from SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson as the situation evolves.”

But according to posts on Twitter, union members are unlikely to be happy with the proposal, suggesting it does not do enough to address quality of life issues such as work schedules, hours of work, time off and attendance policies.

In the US, chemical railcar loadings represent about 20% of chemical transportation by tonnage, with trucks, barges and pipelines carrying the rest. In Canada, producers rely on rail to ship more than 70% of their products, with some exclusively using rail.

Thumbnail image shows a railroad track. Image by Shutterstock.


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