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Maintenance of Way workers vote to reject sellout contract by 56 percent
Workers in the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED) voted to reject a contract put forward by the union by 56 percent, the BMWED announced Monday afternoon.
The vote is a major setback for the conspiracy between the rail unions, the carriers and the White House to enforce sellout contracts. As with the contracts for the other 11 rail unions, the BMWED contract was based on the recommendations of the Biden-appointed Presidential Emergency Board, which contained wage increases below inflation and no changes to punitive attendance and time-off policies.
With 26,000 active members, the BMWED is the third-largest rail union, and the largest “non-op” union. It trails behind only the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation workers union (SMART-TD).
A breakdown of the vote shows it was even more decisive than the 56 percent implies. Only 11,845 workers cast a ballot, with 5,100 in favor. This means that only 19.6 percent of eligible votes cast a vote in favor of the deal.
The vote is a powerful expression of the militancy and the will of the rank and file, which has not weakened in spite of endless delays and bureaucratic maneuvers by the union apparatus. It has already sent chills down the spines of corporate America, with one business journal declaring that the vote “again [raises the] possibility of a strike.”
But the BMWED is not responding to the vote by yielding to workers’ demands for strike action. Instead, it is doubling down and stalling for time. In the same statement releasing the vote results, the BMWED announced it was extending its strike deadline to five days after Congress reconvenes. Congress is not scheduled to reconvene until a week after the midterm elections, meaning the deadline would expire on November 19 at the earliest.
This is a deliberate act of sabotage. The union’s statement is ambiguously phrased to give the impression that the extension is automatic. But in fact, since the provisions of the Railway Labor Act expired on September 16, all such delays and extensions are entirely elective, worked out behind closed doors between the union apparatus and management without the consent of the membership.
For weeks, union officials have been warning workers that Congress would intervene to enforce a contract if workers choose to go on strike. But the union executives are deliberately inviting such intervention by delaying strike action until after the midterms, giving Congress the freedom to act without immediate electoral consequences. BLET and SMART-TD are also extending the end of their votes well past the election, to November 16.
By waiting five days until after the start of the next session, the BMWED is even giving Congress ample time to work out anti-strike legislation, without doing them the discourtesy of forcing them to break from their campaign schedules or post-election vacations. There can be no doubt the timing has been worked out in close consultation with the Biden administration and top Congressional leaders.
In the meantime, the BMWED will work overtime to try and reach a “new” deal before the deadline with identical economics to the first. This is what the International Association of Machinists did less than 48 hours before a self-imposed strike deadline of September 29. Defying both the initial “no” vote on the first contract and an 80 percent vote to strike, the IAM also unilaterally extended the strike deadline into early December. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which narrowly rammed through a contract in a vote marked by huge irregularities, was also prepared to extend their the strike deadline into December.
Workers struck a defiant tone on social media in response to the vote. “Phony Tony [president of the BMWED] and his ‘screw membership first slate’ has proven they are more for the carriers than the membership. COME ON Tony Cardwell, let us strike,” one said. Another said, “real convenient it’s after the elections for the deadline. [It] should be 5 days after a ‘no’ vote, not a month again.
A different outcome favorable to workers requires that railroaders organize themselves to enforce rank-and-file control. Workers must organize themselves across the country to fight for the immediate convocation of a strike, before the midterm elections, to put workers in the strongest possible position.