Having watched UPS drivers score the contract of the century, airline pilots start to secure better contracts, and in the midst of watching the UAW consistently apply pressure to Detroit and the Biden administration, northeastern railroad unions are trying to follow suit.
With public transit still working its way back from Covid shutdowns, rail workers on systems vital to New York City, Philadelphia and New Jersey are using their leverage and threatening “walkouts, strikes and other job actions that would disrupt the commutes for thousands and thousands of people in the most densely populated region of the country”, Politico reported this weekend.
New York’s Kathy Hochul and New Jersey’s Phil Murphy now must weigh not only the inconvenience of potential gridlock with the transit system, but also the political effect of such a threat heading into an election year, the report notes.
John Samuelsen, the international president of Transportation Workers of America, which represents 140,000 transportation workers, told Politico: “There has not been a substantial enough recognition of what happened during Covid.”
The task at hand for transit agencies is trying to cool off talk of a strike by focusing on the fact that provisions for rail unions mean that legal job action can’t be taken until late next year anyway.
But the MTA’s 600 car inspectors, coach cleaners and mechanics who work for Metro-North, led by Samuelsen and the TWU, are going after the head of MTA, Janno Lieber, in a new ad campaign. Politico reports that on behalf of Metro-North employees, the TWU says they “are not getting the same economic package that MTA’s subway workers received and that the MTA is asking for loose language in the contract that would allow the agency to unilaterally reopen the contract”.
Samuelsen said of Lieber: “He’s willing to risk the shutdown of Metro-North based on his unsophisticated analysis of Washington, D.C.”, referencing Lieber’s perception that the Biden administration would back the MTA.
Contract provisions state that a strike can’t happen until after a mandatory 9 month formal cooling off period between parties. Catherine Rinaldi, the president of Metro-North, added: “The notion that there’s going to be a strike this year is just not true.”
The TWU told its members recently: “TWU’s own press release advises that they are prepared to strike once they are released from mediation. While we cannot speak to the status of other unions, decades of precedent and our own union history support that the National Mediation Board will not be releasing TWU from negotiations anytime soon.”
Wages remain the key issue for railworkers. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said it and NJ Transit are said to be $6 to $7 an hour apart on wages. They make up just one of 15 rail unions that NJ Transit will find itself having to negotiate with. NJ Transit and SEPTA are both said to seek $50 an hour for engineers.