For New York workers in any job, one of the most powerful levers they have in ensuring that they are treated fairly with employee benefits and other issues is their ability to strike. In turn, the union must represent the interests of all union members to maximize their ability to get what they are asking for at the collective bargaining table. The idea of a union is to serve the interests of its members and part of that is to have competent and experienced legal representation.
The union head for the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, also known as ACRE, is seeking approval from the members to strike against Metro-North over contractual disputes. The basis for this are the allegations that the railroad had committed violations of agreements. Metro-North is a vital part of people getting back and forth. It serves approximately 280,000 commuters every workday. Most of the members of the union work as engineers and conductors, so their presence is imperative for the railroad to run. For its part, Metro-North says that it will not negotiate in the media and the negotiations with the union are ongoing.
The call for ACRE to strike stems from multiple issues. Most prominent are the delays in getting disability pensions for workers who have a medical problem that disqualifies them from working. They have lost insurance that covers them and family members. The union, in turn, has found doctors and other medical professionals to provide healthcare to these workers free of charge. The Railway Labor Act is designed to dissuade workers from striking by calling for arbitration to settle disputes. The union is working under a contract that it agreed to two years ago. It was set for renewal toward the end of 2016, but discussions have not proceeded for a new deal. The head of the union asserts that Metro-North is repeatedly violating the contract.
Contracts and unions are the cornerstone of ensuring that workers are treated appropriately by an employer. Regardless of whether the threat and action of a strike will inconvenience customers, it is an essential right for a labor union to be able to use the striking power. Understanding how to negotiate in circumstances such as this is also imperative as is considering the litany of legal issues that will be part of the process.
Source: lohud.com, "Metro-North union boss asking members to back rail strike over contract disputes," Thomas C. Zambito, Aug. 28, 2017