Lincoln rail workers could strike as soon as Friday

'The railroads have absolutely no regard for the employees,' union chairman says

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The deadline is approaching for unions and rail companies to reach a labor agreement before workers are allowed to strike later this week.

Many unions say they are still not satisfied with the terms rail companies have put forward, even though many are based on recommendations by the Presidential Emergency Board, or PEB.

Jakob Forsgren, local chairman for Lodge 1320 at the Brotherhood of Maintenance-Way Employes Division, said once the deadline arrives at midnight on Thursday, many workers are planning to strike.

He said rail companies such as BNSF or Amtrak here in Lincoln will also likely begin lockouts at that time to keep workers form coming in to work every day.

Forsgren said his union has put together a tentative agreement with BNSF, but he isn’t sure if members will vote for it since all their demands weren’t met.

“Right now, the railroads have absolutely no regard for the employees that help generate the money that they gladly take,” Forsgren said. “They have no interest in providing service for their customers. Right now, shareholders are the only ones that are important to the railroads, and it’s a sad day.”

The Association of American Railroads estimates a strike would cost up to $2 billion a day.

It also said it is prepared to offer terms based on the PEB’s recommendations “to provide our employees with long overdue pay increases and avert rail service interruptions.”

But Forsgren says if his union agrees to the terms that railroads have put forward, “many of my members would literally have to pay to go to work.”

He says this is because many workers travel for work and have to pay for hotels and meals, and while BNSF does give per diem money for these expenses, Forsgren argues it’s not enough.

“It was giving us $98 a day, which might get you a hotel in Red Oak, Iowa, it will not get you a hotel in say Lincoln, say Fremont,” he said. “And that’s a reimbursement. My members have to pay that out of pocket and then hope that BNSF will reimburse them in a timely manner.”

Forsgren said his union will be respecting and assisting with any strikes or picket lines that take place if other unions decide to go forward with them.

“I would much rather see the railroads bargain in good faith and come to the table with a reasonable offer,” he said. “What will happen to the economy and happen to just industries that rely on railroads to move goods for them, or people for that matter, it won’t be great for them. So I’m hoping the railroads will realize what’s at stake here and come do the right thing.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said that a strike would be an economic disaster and that Congress should impose the terms put forth in the PEB.

President Joe Biden and members of his Cabinet have also been in touch with the unions and railroads in efforts to avert a strike.

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