A labor dispute between the country’s freight rail carriers and their unions could lead to the closure of a coast-to-coast railroad on December 9.
If this happens, the Metra UP North line through Evanston would likely shut down, along with several other Chicagoland Metra commuter routes.
Metra, the commuter rail funding agency, does not carry freight and is not a party to the contract issue.
However, the tracks on several Metra routes are owned by freight carriers, who also employ the train crews.
Such is the case with the run through Evanston, which stops at Main Street, Davis Street and Central Street between downtown Chicago and Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The UP-N line is owned and operated by mega-freight railroad Union Pacific. So a strike against UP would shut down everything it runs, freight and commuters.
“We are potentially impacted on the three UP lines and the BNSF [Burlington Northern Santa Fe] line for sure,” Metra spokesman Mike Gillis told Evanston Now, “because they are operated by freight employees. We are monitoring the situation closely,” he said.
Routes where Metra both owns the tracks and hires the crews, such as Metra Electric, would apparently not be affected.
Eight of the twelve national railway unions have approved a tentative contract agreement with the industry.
But the four other unions, including the one representing conductors and train attendants, saw the base vote “no”.
If these four unions pull out, the other eight, even though they have approved the new contract, will respect the picket line.
Unions and management are returning to the negotiating table to see if a deal can be reached before the strike deadline of December 9 at 12:01 a.m.
Money is not the main stumbling block.
The tentative agreement approved by some unions but rejected by others includes a 14% raise retroactive to 2020 and a total wage increase of 24% over the four years of the contract.
The railroad is a well paid job. But the sticking point in these negotiations is work rules and the employee lives that go with them – being constantly away from home, working outdoors in potentially dangerous weather conditions, being scheduled with minimal notice, limited sick leave and staff shortages.
Jeremy Ferguson, president of the drivers’ union (Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation) told CNN that “it’s the quality of life” and the way employees are treated that led to the rejection.
“When big business cuts too deep,” Ferguson said, “and they expect everyone to pick up the pace, it becomes intolerable. You don’t have family time, you don’t have no time to rest enough.
Industry spokesman Ian Jefferies of the Association of American Railroads told the cable network: “If a ratification fails the first time around, there are absolutely opportunities to sit down and make deals. additional…. ”
Because of the potentially devastating effect a railroad strike would have on the nation’s economy, with so many goods coming to a halt, there’s a good chance that if no deal is reached, Congress would step in and impose a settlement, either before the deadline, or shortly after once a walkout begins.
If there is a strike, however, commuters from Metra to Evanston have an alternative. The CTA Purple line runs parallel to the UP-N tracks for some time and also has stations in Main, Central and Davis.