Ten Unions Seek Arbitration for Negotiations with New Jersey Transit
A total of ten separate unions, led by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), have combined to request arbitration with New Jersey Transit (NJT) in their ongoing contract negotiations. The unions, collectively known as the New Jersey Transit Rail Labor Coalition (NJTRLC), contacted the National Mediation Board (NMB) after normal negotiations reached what they described as an “impasse.” The coalition altogether represents nearly 9 out of 10 workers at NJT.
The differences between each side’s contract positions were described as “immense” by union officials, prompting the request for arbitration. In response, the NMB asked representatives from each side to attend a session in Washington, D.C. in late April. Law requires that the NMB proffer binding arbitration before it can release the two sides from mandatory mediation.
The main issue is healthcare costs – a not uncommon stumbling block in modern contract negotiations. The unions have described the terms that NJT wishes to impose as “concessionary” in that they would raise the cost of healthcare for union members as much as four times what they are currently paying.
Arbitration could be complicated. Once the NMB proffers arbitration, either side can reject it. That prompts a 30-day cooling off period, and also gives opportunity for governors in states where NJT has service, or President Obama, to appoint an emergency review board that would force all employees to continue working under the status quo until issues are resolved. In other words, there is no guarantee that arbitration will be accepted – or successful.