With a strike looming, railroad unions and management head back to negotiating table
In a rare move, the Association of American Railroads this week asked unions to return to the bargaining table for the first time in four months, seeking a deal to avert a showdown over pension funds that could lead to a partial work stoppage.
Railroad workers on Wednesday rejected an offer from the railroads and the Teamsters union, and the two sides are now heading back to the bargaining table to try to resolve the dispute.
The talks took place as the railroads and the Teamsters faced with a strike deadline of Oct. 16. The union will ask the railroad bosses to approve a 5 to 2, onetime-only pension fund transfer. The union would then move to strike, if the railroads do not agree.
The dispute has been shaping up for weeks, as the union has been forced to defend its pension plans and to explain why they exist. The talks are also meant to help the railroads and their employees manage their collective bargaining agreements.
The move to seek a deal by bringing back the bargaining has been a rarity. Negotiations between the unions and the railroads have ceased for 16 weeks, though the union remains committed to reaching an agreement that would allow the companies to avoid a strike.
The railroad bosses told the union on Monday that they would meet as soon as possible to discuss the offer and see what would be acceptable to them. The railroads have tried to position their offer so the union would support it, but it is not clear if the union is so inclined.
“We are waiting for them to make their decision,” said Richard J. Roberts, the president of the Association of American Railroads.
Officials from the union and the railroads did not respond to requests for comment.
Union members on Tuesday rejected the latest offer, which was described only as a letter from railroads and management to be distributed to the union’s 3,500 locals.
The letter said the railroads would transfer up to $3 billion to the new funds, but would hold back about $15 billion for future retiree benefits. The letter also said the railroads would continue to pay the pension bills incurred by the union’s members past Jan. 1, 2016.
The railroad officials told the union that moving the funds