CHICAGO — If labor negotiations between freight railroad operators and unions fall through and a strike is instituted Friday, Metra will be closing service on four of their 11 railways.
The line service closures will occur along the Burlington North Santa Fe, Union Pacific North, Union Pacific Northwest and Union Pacific West lines beginning Thursday evening.
Passenger and commuter trains are affected by freight railroad negotiations because — while they are not specifically a part of any freight railroad companies or unions — they do operate on freight company owned and operated railroads, meaning if the freight railroads are not being maintained and operated, passenger and commuter trains cannot use them.
Metra outlined the specific closures in a press release to their customers Wednesday afternoon, which are detailed below.
The following BNSF trains will not operate Thursday night, Sept. 15:
- Inbound trains 1296, 1298, 1300 and 1302 are canceled (all depart Aurora after 8 p.m.)
- Outbound trains 1289, 1291 1293 and 1295 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.)
The following Union Pacific trains will not operate Thursday night, Sept 15:
Union Pacific North
- Inbound trains 372 and 374 are canceled (all depart Waukegan after 10 p.m.)
- Outbound trains 371, 373, 375 and 377 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.)
Union Pacific Northwest
- Inbound trains 666 and 668 are canceled (all depart after 9:30 p.m.)
- Outbound trains 661,663,665 and 601 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.)
Union Pacific West
- Inbound train 68 is canceled (departs Elburn after 9:15 p.m.)
- Outbound trains 69 and 71 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.)
Negotiations are ongoing between America’s freight railroad operators and 12 railroad unions, but two unions, Brotherhood of locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — which make up over 60,000 workers and more than 50% of the railroad workforce — are the two major players holding up negotiations.
About 4,900 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 19 also voted to reject the tentative agreement negotiated by IAMAW leadership with railroad operators Wednesday.
Back in July, President Joe Biden convened a panel to help prevent a strike and mediate negotiations. In August, the panel released a 124-page report that recommended a 24% pay increase — along with other bonuses — through 2024, but that didn’t address the issue central to why a strike may be coming Friday.
Why railroad union workers are threatening to strike is based on concerns around sick time and time-off policies — specifically — unplanned days off when it comes to personal or family matters.
Dennis Pierce, president of BLET, told NPR Wednesday that he has not seen railroad workers this worked up over collective bargaining negotiations before.
“I have never seen this level of anger,” Pierce said in the article. “Animosity. Acrimony. You pick the word. That means they’re pissed off, [be]cause they are.”
Union workers said they have no set schedules and are often on-call for weeks on end, leading to BLET, the International Association of SMART Workers, and IAMAW holding out for more predictable and flexible scheduling on behalf of their members.
As negotiations continue, government officials and a variety of businesses are bracing for the possibility that the railroad strike would paralyze shipments of everything from crude oil and clothing to cars, a potential calamity for businesses that have struggled for more than two years due to COVID-19 related supply chain breakdowns.
The 12 railroad unions — one with two separate divisions — must agree to the tentative deals. So far, nine have agreed to tentative deals, but BLET, the International Association of SMART Workers, and IAMAW are still at the bargaining table.
If all 12 unions cannot come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, Congress could also step in and block a strike or lockout.