The strike by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE) was over Conrail's use of outside contractors to build tracks in Marysville, Ohio. The union said Conrail promised in writing not to contract out the work.
"They didn't even notify us that they were," union General Chairman Jed Dodd said Friday morning. "We found out about it when the contractor showed up to install track."
Dodd said the union has protested to Conrail, but the railroad had not replied.
The strike shut down all movement by Conrail, the nation's fifth-largest freight rail company. It moves about 4.2 million shipments annually, or about 7.25 percent of the nation's freight volume.
Libkind said the company did contract out work, and he didn't know about any promise not to use outside contractors, adding: "It's totally irrelevant."
He said the strike is illegal under railroad labor law, adding, "You have to go through a whole series of things" before there's a strike or a lockout. Those procedures have not been followed, he said.
Conrail was seeking an injunction against the strike in federal court Friday morning in Easton, Pa.
The BMWE represents 3,400 Conrail track construction employees. Dodd said other railroad unions were honoring his union's picket lines. The last time the BMWE struck against Conrail was in 1994. Dodd said that strike was over safety issues.
Conrail, originally set up by Congress in 1976 to reorganize six bankrupt Northeast railroads, operates in 12 states in the Northeast and Midwest, Washington, D.C., and Quebec in Canada. It has about 23,500 employees and 11,000 miles of track.
Two other railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, are in the process of buying parts of Conrail, splitting the company between them. Federal regulators have approved the deals, but the restructuring hasn't begun yet.
Written by Dan Robrish
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