A threatened nationwide railroad strike that could have stranded Amtrak riders during Thanksgiving — one of the busiest travel seasons of the year — has been averted for now.
The date of a potential strike was pushed back from Nov. 20 to at least Dec. 4 by the railroad workers union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The union’s members have rejected a settlement reached with freight railroads in September.
The date of the strike could be as late as Dec. 9 to allow two other unions, the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, to conclude their ratification procedures.
If a strike were to occur, Amtrak would have to cancel most of its trains outside the Northeast Corridor, as they operate on tracks owned and controlled by freight railroads. Amtrak owns just 3% of the routes its trains travel. Many commuter railroads, such as those in Chicago and Los Angeles, run on freight railroads for part of their routes.
The labor unions are at an impasse with the nation’s railroads over paid sick leave, which is not offered by Class 1 freight railroads and was not included in the September settlement orchestrated by the White House.
So far, seven labor unions have ratified the agreement, while the BMWED and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen have voted it down. The National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the nation’s freight rail carriers in national collective bargaining, said in a statement issued Wednesday, “The railroads will remain engaged with BMWED throughout the extended cooling off period and will continue to seek an agreement based on the framework recommended by Presidential Emergency Board 250.”
The extension maintains the status quo period for all 115,000 railway workers covered by the agreement.
In a Wednesday statement, the BMWED said, “This is the railroads’ last chance to do the right thing by voluntarily agreeing to provide paid sick leave to all employees.”