by Chris Isidore
September 12, 2022
New YorkCNN Business — It’s not just about the money.
There has been a surge in union activism — including strikes and organizing efforts — in the last year that is being driven by factors far beyond pay rates and benefits packages.
If pay was the only issue, the nation probably wouldn’t be facing the risk of its first national rail strike in 30 years this coming week, a walkout that could knock the legs out from under the still struggling supply chain and be another body blow to the US economy.
A presidential panel looking at that labor dispute recommended the two sides agree to a five-year contract that includes an immediate 14% raise, backpay from 2020, and a 24% pay increase over the course of the contract. That’s less than the 31% in raises over five years the union is seeking, but more than the 17% previously offered by railroad management.
That was enough to get some of the unions to agree to tentative deals, but not the unions that represent more than 90,000 workers, including those who make up the two-person crews on freight trains. They appear poised to strike unless Congress acts to keep them on the job.
Those unions say they’re not rejecting the wage offer. Rather, it’s the work rules, staffing and scheduling proposals they object to, which require them to be on call, and ready to report to work, seven days a week for much of the year. If it were just a question of wages, a deal between the two sides would likely already be in place.
“We’re not going to sit here and argue about [wages] or health care. We’re beyond that,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the union that represents conductors, one of the two workers on freight trains along with the engineer.
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