NJ Transit is close to working out a new deal for its rail workers, but there’s one serious sticking point.

The union representing locomotive engineers has turned thumbs down on the proposed contract, and that is causing some serious concern.

Reliable sources close to the negotiations tell New Jersey 101.5 that 14 of the 15 rail unions have accepted NJ Transit’s deal offering a 12% pay increase over 4 and a half years, but BLET, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union. has rejected it, and wants more than double what’s been offered.

Pushing for the best deal

According to Todd Vachon, the director of the Labor Education Action Research Network at Rutgers University, it is common for rail unions to negotiate together. However, the union seen as the most powerful is the one that typically tries to settle the best agreement, and in this case, it’s the BLET.

He said in recent years NJ Transit has been giving 2.5% pay hikes and
"the engineer’s union is saying that just doesn’t make up for the money they’ve lost from rising inflation, the inflation rate is 8.5% this year, and they’re says a 2.5% raise for this year is still a 6% pay cut."

NJ Transit train in Hamilton Station
Annette Petriccione, Townsquare Media NJ

"They’re trying to really bargain hard for their members, workers are saying no, we’re losing pay because of inflation so we really want to get a deal that makes up for that."

Vachon said as we’ve seen across the whole economy, "during this tight labor market and this period of high inflation, increasingly workers are voting down those contracts and saying no, we want more, we have greater leverage at this time than we did previously."

No immediate strike threat

He pointed out the Railway Labor Act stipulates when the employer and the union come to an impasse, "they automatically kick into a cooling off period where both sides are supposed to step away from the table for a little bit, the union go back and talk to the members, management reconsiders what they’re thinking."

"The threat of a strike happening imminently or immediately is really pretty low because there’s going to be a series of periods where they go into cooling off and then going back in to discuss again."

Reliable sources tell New Jersey 101.5 that the earliest possible time frame for a possible strike would be this time next year.

A spokesman for the BLET said negotiations are coming up next week and the union does not feel it’s appropriate to comment right now.

A spokesman for NJ Transit declined to discuss the situation.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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