FRA Certification Helpline: (216) 694-0240

30-day “cooling-off” period begins today as NMB releases BLET from mediation 

Today, the National Mediation Board (NMB), the federal agency that regulates labor relations for railroads and airlines, has granted release to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and New Jersey Transit (NJT), ending federal mediation. Under the rules of the Railway Labor Act, a 30-day cooling-off period begins today, June 25. Unless there is a voluntary agreement between BLET and the NJT in the next month, or barring President Biden establishing a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), either the union or NJT can exercise “Self-Help” as soon as 12:01 a.m. EDT, July 25, 2024. The union would then be free to strike, or the employer could lockout workers. The 494 BLET members employed by NJT have unanimously voted to grant BLET’s National President Eddie Hall authority to call a strike if allowed by the federal authorities. The strike vote by locomotive engineers at NJT was taken last August.

“This labor dispute has dragged on for far too long,” said BLET National President Eddie Hall. “NJT has nearly a half-billion dollars for lavish new office space, they recently raised fares by 15 percent, meanwhile they haven’t offered their engineers competitive wages with other passenger railroads. It’s time for NJT to make a fair offer and settle this dispute voluntarily, otherwise our members will be walking picket lines rather than operating trains.”

The contract dispute has been in NMB-sponsored mediation for nearly three years. NJT’s locomotive engineers have been seeking a new labor agreement since October 2019. NJT’s engineers are among the lowest paid engineers working in commuter service in the nation.

On June 21, the NMB offered both BLET and NJT a Proffer of Arbitration per Section 8 of the Railway Labor Act. If accepted by both parties the dispute would have been put to binding arbitration. The BLET decline the offer of arbitration, setting the clock for a strike in motion.

“Our members are angry and feel betrayed,” said Hall. “Locomotive engineers kept the trains running during the pandemic. They have gone five years without a pay raise during a period of high inflation. These men and women want to serve the public with uninterrupted service, but they cannot continue working for subpar wages. They have had enough.”

Currently, certified locomotive engineers are in high demand at both freight and passenger railroads and can’t be easily replaced.

If President Biden calls for a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) before the end of the 30-day cooling off period, the strike would be delayed while the PEB collects data and prepares a report. The President could do this at the request of the NMB or be required to do so at the request of the BLET, NJT or the Governor.

It is likely that a request will be made and a PEB created in this dispute. The members of the PEB will then have 30 days to issue a report from the date of the board’s creation. This would further delay a strike or lockout or other form of self-help for 120 days from the date of the PEB’s creation.

The PEB’s recommendations for settlement of the dispute may or may not be accepted by one or both parties. If no agreement is reached by 120 days after the report and recommendations of the PEB, then a second PEB may be appointed by the president. If a second PEB is established, the parties have 30 days to submit final offers to it, and the second PEB then has 30 days to issue a report based on those final offers.

If 60 days from the date of the second PEB report elapses without a deal reached by the parties, then the parties may engage in self-help, including strikes, lockouts and unilateral changes in terms and conditions of employment.