(NewsNation) — A labor showdown looms for New Jersey Transit commuter rail, one of the largest rail operations in the country.
Every day on average close to 150,000 people use the service, many of them going into New York City for work.
A strike would almost certainly cause a daily traffic nightmare as many of those people would be forced to either drive into the city or ride buses.
New Jersey Transit officials and union leaders with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) have been negotiating since 2020, and the two groups are seemingly worlds apart.
The union which represents 500 train engineers says it wants an 18% to 23% pay raise, which it says is comparable to what other railroad companies pay its engineers.
Union leaders say if other railroad companies start hiring again, they believe many engineers will leave NJ Transit which would leave the system’s rail service short-staffed.
Negotiations have stalled so badly that the national mediation board, a federal agency that handles labor relations with the railroads and airlines has requested the two sides come to Washington, D.C. next month for a meeting.
Union leader says they want to keep the trains running but NJ Transit leaders just won’t budge and offer them a better-paying wage.
“They’re claiming that they settled with other unions on the property, and we should accept the same increases,” said Union President Jim Brown. “We do different jobs, they have much more responsibility, a train that takes two years to train an engineer, and $250,000. They’re comparing us with ticket collectors and ticket agents and clerks. And I’m not saying anything bad about that. I’m just saying we have a lot more responsibility, a lot more training.”
Last December, Congress stopped more than 100,000 freight rail workers from going on strike and made them accept a new five-year contract with pay raises and bonuses.
A freight train strike would have hit the U.S. Economy hard as the delivery of goods would have been slowed down to a crawl.
And it’s possible if New Jersey Transit engineers were to strike, Congress could step in considering the impact it would have on so many commuters.
If the two sides can’t reach an agreement in March, there are several other provisional steps they would need to take before declaring a strike.
It’s a process that could take nearly a year which takes us into 2024 so a strike would not be happening in the immediate future.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Transit officials say they believe they have made a fair offer.