Galesburg BMWED leader reacts as union heads back to the bargaining table with BNSF

Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 2:05 AM CDT
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GALESBURG, Ill. (KWQC) - The third-largest railroad union in the country rejected its tentative agreement with BNSF railway last week, renewing the possibility of a major railway strike.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division represents more than 11,000 maintenance workers who repair the tracks trains travel on.

On Oct. 10, about 56% of the union voted to reject the deal, which was made in September, with the help of federal intervention. It included a 24% pay increase through 2025 and annual bonuses for members.

However, Dan Parish, Vice President of Local 798 in Galesburg, said members are looking for a better quality of life.

“Getting home to see family and loved ones is maybe only for a few hours on the weekend,” “Parish said. “[You’re getting home, basically long enough to do your laundry, get packed and back on the road. [That] is norm for a lot of our folks.”

The last time BMWED workers received a raise was back in July 2019, and they’ve been without a contract since January 2020.

Currently, workers don’t get any sick days, and only get one personal day annually for their first 17 years. The tentative agreement did not include any improvements to those policies.

Another demand, according to Parish, was better insurance. The tentative agreement was vague about what improvements were coming if approved.

“There was not at the time an idea of what our insurance [was going to be],” Parish said. “That is really an awful lot of what the members believe that we need something that tells us what our insurance is actually going to be.”

The union also wants to see better travel pay and better mileage rates to reflect the national average. Members currently receive about $30 a day when they are away from home.

While national attention focuses on the fallout of a potential strike, Parish said he wants people to realize railroad workers deserve a better deal.

“We’re a 24/7 operation. We go out in the middle of the night, we go out all hours of the day,” Parish said. “Regardless of what the weather conditions are.”

The earliest any of the railway unions could go on strike is Nov. 19, five days after congress reconvenes.

TV6 News did reach out to BNSF about the rejected deal with BMWED but they have not yet responded.

SMART-TD, the other railroad union with a local in Galesburg, has not yet voted on the tentative agreement.