97 percent of BLET members authorize strike

October 6, 2011: An overwhelming 97 percent majority of BLET members have voted to authorize a strike when a mandatory 30-day cooling off period under the Railway Labor Act comes to an end later this week.

Locomotive engineers would walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on October 7, 2011, unless President Obama intervenes and appoints a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). A PEB would halt any strike or lockout by the parties, and would investigate and issue a report and recommendations concerning the dispute.

As background, the National Mediation Board released the BLET and 10 other Rail Labor unions from mediation with the rail carriers on September 6, creating a 30-day cooling off period, which expires at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on October 7, 2011. At that point self-help is available to the parties, which means the BLET and/or any of the other unions could go on strike.

BLET National President Dennis Pierce said the near unanimous vote in favor of a strike is a clear mandate from BLET members that they are unwilling to accept a concessionary contract and cuts in health care coverage.

“It is unfortunate that, in this time of record industry profits, the carriers insist upon attempting to take advantage of a weakened general economy to further line its corporate pockets at the expense of the railroad workers whose labor generates those profits,” Pierce said. “And it is shameful that the carriers have chosen to specifically target those railroad workers who are most vulnerable — older workers and the sick and injured — to shoulder a disproportionate share of the demanded givebacks.”

President Pierce said the level of voter turnout was higher than any referendum in decades. He thanked the BLET Mobilization Network for helping generate the high level of membership participation. He also thanked the members for their participation and patience throughout the process, especially when high call volume caused phone lines to crash in the early days of the strike authorization vote.

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