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National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Eddie Hall, calls for an August strike authorization vote at NJ Transit

“Millions for penthouse views, but not a dime for train crews. This is no way to run a railroad.”

The transit agency has $440 million for new luxury office space, but locomotive engineers haven’t seen a raise since prior to the pandemic

NEWARK — Five hundred locomotive engineers employed by NJ Transit (NJT) will begin receiving ballots in the mail this week from their national union seeking authorization to call a strike at the nation’s third-largest commuter railroad.

NJT’s locomotive engineers, members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), have been seeking a new contract since October 2019. The contract dispute has been in National Mediation Board-sponsored mediation for nearly three years.

NJT has been insisting that engineers adhere to “pattern bargaining” with other NJT work groups. The union maintains that NJT should have wages closer to engineers’ wages at other commuter railroads. With the exception of one other transit agency, NJT’s engineers are the lowest paid engineers working in commuter service in the nation.

Currently, certified locomotive engineers are in high demand at both freight and passenger railroads and can’t be easily replaced. Shortages of engineers leading to train delays and cancellations are not without precedent. NJT was forced to routinely cancel trains due to shortages of engineers during Gov. Christie’s years in office.

“The absence of a pay raise during a period of high inflation has persisted for four years, which is too long. Our members cannot continue working for subpar wages. They have had enough,” said BLET National President Eddie Hall. “The employer’s delay tactics and priorities are causing some of NJT’s engineers to think about leaving. Many options are available because of the shortage of engineers across the country.”

At an NJT board meeting in Newark on May 10, union members protested outside while BLET NJT General Chairman James Brown told the board members assembled inside that the transit agency’s plan to spend $440 million for luxury office space at Two Gateway in Newark while stonewalling at the bargaining table is wrong. He summed up his remarks by saying, “Millions for penthouse views, but not a dime for train crews. This is no way to run a railroad.” A short video containing highlights from the May 10 protest and Brown’s remarks to the board can be seen here.

Members of the New Jersey Assembly’s Budget Committee also have raised questions about New Jersey Transit’s priorities and questionable real estate transactions.

BLET members working for NJT will receive a mailing from the BLET National Division over the next few days with voting instructions. The deadline for receipt of ballots is at 12:00 Noon EDT on Thursday, August 31, 2023. Members who are eligible and have not received a strike authorization packet by Monday, August 21, 2023, should call the National Division at (216) 241-2630, extension 222. When connected with the extension, please leave the following information:

  • Your name, address, and phone number;
  • The Division to which you belong;
  • The railroad you work for;
  • The date you were promoted to locomotive engineer;
  • Your date of birth; and
  • The last four digits of your Social Security number.

The above information is needed to verify membership and eligibility to receive a ratification packet. Email requests for ballots will not be accepted because personal data is required to verify eligibility before a ballot can be issued.

“I am confident that 100 percent of the ballots returned will be in favor of striking New Jersey Transit,” said Hall. “We will be one step closer to ‘self-help’ once the ballots are counted later this month and just prior to the Labor Day weekend. I want to stress that BLET shall comply with the rules of the Railway Labor Act. However, once released by the National Mediation Board, we will be ready to act. What we really want is a fair contract for engineers and to ensure uninterrupted train services for passengers.”