Westbound Union Pacific West Metra line train approaches the Oak Park station | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

UPDATED: Sept. 15, 2022 at 11:45 a.m.

The railroad engineers and conductors strike, which threatened to shut down Metra commuter train lines operated by BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad has been averted after the labor unions and the major railroad companies agreed to a tentative deal.

The contract still needs to be approved by the union members, but even if they vote to reject the deal, Reuters reported that they wouldn’t be able to strike for a few more weeks.

The deal, which was reached on Sept. 15 at 4 a.m. includes 14.1-percent across-the-board wage increases, which would take effect immediately, double-digit pay increases for employees those salaries have been frozen and the ability to take time off to seek “certain types of medical care” without being penalized.

Scheduling and the ability to take time off have been the main points of contention between the unions and the railroads as the workforce shrank while demand increased during the pandemic.

A strike threatened by freight railroad engineers and conductors would halt BNSF and Union Pacific commuter trains as soon as Sept. 15.

The BNSF and Union Pacific railroads operate commuter trains on their freight lines under contract with Metra, so if their engineers and conductors strike, that would halt service along the BNSF Line, which travels through Riverside and Brookfield, and Union Pacific West Line, which serves Austin, East Garfield Park, Oak Park, River Forest, Maywood, Melrose Park, Bellwood and Berkeley.

According to a Sept. 14 Metra press release, if the work stoppage happens, the trains will stop running on the evening of Sept. 15. On the BNSF line, inbound trains would stop running after 8 p.m. and outbound trains would stop running after 9:30 p.m.

On the Union Pacific West line, inbound trains will stop running after 9:15 p.m. and the outbound trains will stop running after 9:30 p.m.

The work stoppage wouldn’t affect the Milwaukee District West line, which has stations in Austin, Galewood and Montclare. That line is owned and operated by Metra, and Metra-employed engineers and conductors aren’t planning to strike.

According to the Associated Press, there are 12 railroad employee unions that are currently seeking a contract. The railroads have reached tentative agreements with most of their unions based on the recommendations of a Presidential Emergency Board, which President Joe Biden appointed this summer. The board recommended raises amounting to 24 percent and $5,000 in bonuses in a five-year deal that’s retroactive to 2020. The deal also includes one additional day of paid leave per year and higher health insurance costs.

But all 12 railroad unions must agree to prevent a strike. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union, which represents the train engineers, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union, which represents the conductors, want the railroads to address some of their concerns about unpredictable work schedules and strict attendance rules in addition to agreeing to the recommended wage increases.

Oak Park commuters have the CTA Green Line as an alternative. The Green Line also connects to Pace bus routes 309 and 313, which serve River Forest. Riders using Berkeley and Bellwood stations can also use Route 313, and Melrose Park and Maywood riders can use routes 309, 313, or use Route 303 to connect to the Forest Park Blue Line CTA station.

Riverside and North Riverside residents can connect to CTA stations via Pace routes on Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road. Pace Route 302, which serves the LaGrange Road station in LaGrange, connects to the CTA Pink Line.

Pace spokesperson Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said that if the strike happens, the transit agency will accept all Metra monthly and daily passes starting Sept. 15 at 10 p.m.

“Pace will supplement service on the existing routes as much as it is able,” she said.

For the latest Metra service updates, visit metra.com. For the latest Pace bus service updates, visit pacebus.com

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...