The Electrical Worker online
April 2018

National Rail Agreement
Heads Back to Mediation
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IBEW members covered under the U.S. National Freight Agreement have rejected the proposed 2015-2019 agreement with the National Carriers Conference Committee — the freight railroads bargaining group — by a vote of 1,415 to 1,253.

"These results are disappointing," said Railroad Department Director Bill Bohné, "not simply because the agreement was rejected, but because of the member participation." Of the 6,269 ratification packets mailed, only about half were returned — and many of those were voided because members failed to follow instructions.

Problems included members failing to identify themselves on the return envelopes and incorrect addresses on file. That issue was worked on prior to the ratification packets being sent out, and members are asked again to please update their addresses online or with their local union.

The results were tallied on Feb. 7 and announced that evening, and later posted on the IBEW webpage. The union is working to schedule dates for resuming mediation.

"If we can't reach a new agreement, we have other options to consider, including petitioning the National Mediation Board to release us from the mediation process," Bohné said. If the NMB agrees to do so, it will offer the IBEW and the railroads binding arbitration, and the parties will have 10 days to accept or reject the offer.

It gets more complicated if either party rejects the offer, starting a 30-day cooling-off period at the end of which rail members can strike while the railroads can impose new wages and working conditions unilaterally.

"We're in a difficult situation," Bohné said. During the cooling-off period, President Donald Trump can intervene by appointing a presidential emergency board to investigate the dispute and make recommendations for a new contract.

The PEB then has 30 days to hold hearings and make contract recommendations before both sides again have options for how to proceed.

"It's unlikely it comes to that," Bohné said, "because this Republican Congress can step in, stop both parties from acting, and pass a law that becomes our new contract — usually under PEB-recommended terms."

Further, the railroads would probably argue that a pattern for a new contract has been set, since about 70 percent of the railroad unionized workforce has already accepted agreements based on the same terms offered to the IBEW.

But it could get even worse. The railroads could revert to an earlier proposal that includes smaller wage increases, no retroactive pay, more health-and-welfare cost-shifting to IBEW members, and draconian work rule changes (a copy of their July 12, 2017 proposal is available at the Railroad Department Section on the IBEW website).

"Considering the current political situation, I doubt the PEB would get us any better deal than the other unions got," Bohné said, "and they could even recommend that we get less." The same holds true if our dispute ends up in the hands of Congress, he said.

"Bottom line, if we can reach any kind of agreement, we need the members to participate in the voting process. There's a lot at stake here — it's their future — and we don't think it's wise for their future to be at the mercy of this administration," Bohné said.

Visit the railroad page at for the latest updates. Also update your addresses on by going to "Tools" and then "Change of Address."