NJ Transit engineers union says no strike during Labor Day weekend
🚅 500 members of NJ Transit's engineers union are taking a strike authorization vote
🚅 NJ Transit was concerned a strike would be called during Labor Day
🚅 The union says no strike is planned while mediated talks continue
A federal judge ruled Thursday that the strike authorization vote underway by members of the NJ Transit engineers union can continue despite NJ Transit's concern about a Labor Day strike.
Tensions have ratcheted up between NJ Transit and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which represents the transit agency's engineers, since BLET National President Eddie Hall called for a strike authorization vote by its 500 members.
BLET is the only union representing NJ Transit employees not to approve a contract.
NJ Transit filed for an injunction in federal district court to stop the vote over concerns it could lead to an immediate strike during Labor Day weekend, citing a job action in 2022 over the Juneteenth holiday which resulted in canceled and delayed rail service. Currently, BLET is still under the terms of a previous contract which does not consider Labor Day a holiday for engineers. Engineers staged an informal work stoppage but NJ Transit won a lawsuit prohibiting future "wildcat" strikes.
Hall criticized NJ Transit for filing a “frivolous” motion to “strip members of the their legal right to hold a strike vote.” Hall told the judge there is no plan for an immediate organized strike or a “wildcat strike” after the vote is counted and announced on Aug. 31, just before the Labor Day holiday weekend.
NJ Transit, in its response, said there is nothing frivolous about NJ Transit's obligation to protect its customers from "another unlawful action" like the Juneteeth action.
Mediated talks have gone on for three years, but BLET has expressed frustration at a lack of progress. It has promised to follow the rules of the Railway Labor Act but leadership has said that when the mediation process ends the union will be "ready to act."
BLET says engineers underpaid compared to other commuter lines
BLET has focused its attack on NJ Transit on its new headquarters at Two Gateway Center in Newark and engineer pay, which is below other commuter lines and Amtrak.
"BLET members are furious over the transit agency’s fiscally irresponsible and immoral decision to spend $440 million+ for a lavish new office building with penthouse views at Two Gateway Center in Newark, while not giving raises during a time of high inflation to locomotive engineers," Hall said in a statement.
NJ Transit CEO and President Kevin Corbett said $23 million has been budgeted for a retroactive pay increase for engineers.
"The average locomotive engineer earning $97,000 annually, would be earning $109,212 at the end of the current four-year contract. It’s inexplicable why the BLET leadership would leave tens of millions of dollars in salary on the table that should be going to their members," NJ Transit said in a statement.