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'I don't think anybody wants a strike': Nebraska unions and railroad carriers in labor battle as strike looms

Posted at 6:29 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 19:29:45-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — All of the nation’s major railroad carriers, including Union Pacific and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe are currently in a heated labor negotiation with around a dozen unions representing the workers.

It affects over 110,000 workers across the country, including many Union Pacific and BNSF workers in Nebraska.

If a deal isn’t struck in the near future a strike or lockout could come next.

“It sounds real romantic. Go out and strike everything like that,” said Pat Pfeifer, a UP Engineer, who is Nebraska State chairman of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. "But I don't think anybody wants a strike."

Pfeifer points to Union Pacific's first quarter income of around $1.5 billion.

“We want to see them do well but not at the expense of the employees out here,” said Pfeifer.

The fight between the roughly dozen unions combined as the ‘United Rail Unions’ and the railroad carriers repped by the National Carriers Conference Committee is centered around a few things, including pay.

“The wage increases that were proposed by the railroads would not even be able to help our members keep up with inflation, let alone they want to charge more for our members to keep up with our healthcare coverage so that we end up taking a de facto pay cut,” said Ash Anderson, a BNSF employee and a local union leader for the Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way.

Anderson’s work in the union brought him to Lincoln to protest last week.

He says wage increases of just around two percent more a year over a five-year period don’t cut it.

He and Pfeifer also point to the railroad’s push for trains with only one person running them as unsafe and a needless, cost-cutting measure.

“The railroads have shifted their focus away from operating safe and reliable service for the country to just trying to squeeze as much profit as they can out of the infrastructure they have,” said Anderson.

NCCC said in a statement last week that they have made a good offer.

“The railroads have worked to thoughtfully address issues raised by both sides and have offered pay increases that are consistent with labor market benchmarks and reward rail employees for their essential work.”

Last week President Joe Biden ordered neutral arbitrators to find a consensus, they’ll have a report in about four weeks.

While neither side wants a strike, the union members want to see a fair deal.

“If it’s not equitable I could see a lot of our members, (saying) 'This ain’t the life for me anymore,'” said Pfeifer.

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