An Averted Railroad Worker Strike Could Have Impacted Wyoming Coal
Since February of this year, tension has been building due to difficulties involving negotiating a railroad worker contract between the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and rail companies.
The issue comes down to rail companies changing its policies to make it harder for workers to take days off, less benefits, and poor pay.
On Friday, there was the possibility of a national rail workers strike, but that issue has been deferred due to a proposed deal that will still need to be approved by union members.
That deal addressed various concerns raised by union members, including an immediate 14% raise, cash bonuses of $1,000 a year, mandating two-person crews, capping health care costs, and allowing workers to take time off for medical appointments or other scheduled events without being penalized.
While a strike has been delayed, if the workers don't agree to the deal, a strike could still happen by the end of September.
If the strike where to happen, it would impact commuters as well as the shipment of goods across the country.
In Wyoming, Ed Even Jr., president of the local Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 94 in Gillette, said that a strike could interrupt coal shipments throughout the state.
While a potential strike could have disrupted the distribution of coal going to power plants, Even said that if coal wasn't able to make it to plants, those facilities have a three-week supply of coal on hand in case of emergencies.
Even said that the changes in February were a response by the rail companies to save money, but that it only further exacerbated the worker shortage.
"When I went in for my interview and testing, there were 20 positions available, there were over 200 people applying for those 20 positions," Even said. "Now they try to have a class of 10, they get two people to apply because of the policies they have in place now, nobody wants to do it...they've actually laid off quite a few people and due to that, a lot of people haven't come back and that's the reason we're short-handed. And then when they put this policy in, we've had a lot of people leave because of this policy, which makes us even more short-handed."
At this time, it is unclear when workers will vote on the agreement or when they will see it, as Even said on Friday that he has yet to see the agreement.