Rail Machinists Rerun Contested Election

An orange Union Pacific railroad locomotive is shown in a repair area.

Machinists in District Lodge 19 repair and maintain locomotives and heavy equipment for rail carriers including CSX, BNSF, and Union Pacific. Photo: Canyon Mike on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

A new election for top officers will be held in Machinists District Lodge 19 on May 3, after complaints about bad addresses and campaigning at polling locations during a close vote last year.

The new vote for president and secretary-treasurer will establish who will set the union’s approach to the upcoming contract fight with the big freight rail carriers. Negotiations between the 13 rail unions and the carriers begin later this year.

District Lodge 19 represents 8,000 machinists who repair locomotives and heavy equipment for carriers including CSX, BNSF, and Union Pacific.

Dissatisfied with how their leaders handled the last negotiations, a group of members put together a “Challenger” slate headed by Reece Murtagh, local chairman of Lodge 696 in Richmond, Virginia. Its platform emphasized greater transparency and a more militant posture toward the employers.

Incumbent president Kyle Loos, who had only been appointed to the office a few months earlier, did not run. He was replaced on the ticket by assistant president Andrew Sandberg.


Murtagh told Labor Notes the election is about “us taking back the union, and taking an actual fight to the rail carriers that they’ve never seen before. No more bullshit backroom deals.”

Sandberg and his team have hit back, calling Murtagh a “massive fraud” in campaign materials and accusing him of “lies and deceit” about the election.

This was one of the rail unions whose members had initially rejected a tentative agreement reached by union leaders and Class I freight carriers in the summer of 2022. On the same ballot, 89 percent of members voted to approve a strike if the agreement was rejected.

But instead of striking, union leaders pushed back the strike deadline and scheduled a vote—more than two months out—on a new, slightly modified deal. In November 2022, this second agreement passed narrowly, 52-48.

IAM District 19 is not the only rail union that saw contentious internal elections driven by member frustration around the contract settlement. In December 2022, opposition candidate Ed Hall defeated the incumbent in the Locomotive Engineers (BLET), a Teamster affiliate.


To make it on the ballot, candidates in District 19 have to be nominated in a local lodge, and then win the lodge’s nomination election.

Only candidates who win nominations in at least nine of the District’s 57 lodges (15 percent) appear on the ballot. Murtagh and his slate were able to meet that threshold, setting up a rare contested election.



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When the election was held in June, the results were extremely close: 796 votes for Sandberg, and 790 votes for Murtagh.

Initially, District 19 planned to hold a new election in just one local lodge, after Murtagh charged Sandberg’s slate with campaigning in the polling location there. But the Department of Labor stepped in over issues with bad addresses and ordered a national rerun for the two top positions.

When charges are filed in an internal union election and the DOL finds enough merit to require a rerun, it first goes to the union and asks for a voluntary rerun, supervised by the Department. If the union refuses, the DOL seeks a court order. The Machinists chose the first option.

The Grand Lodge, meanwhile, accused Labor Notes of trying to influence the outcome through an article we ran, describing us as an organization that “has interests that appear to be inimical” to the union, while also acknowledging that the union could not demonstrate that the article had impacted the election.

DOL-supervised rerun elections are extremely rare. Roughly 7,000 union elections are held each year in the private and federal sectors, where the DOL is responsible for oversight. In 2023, there were 17 rerun elections supervised or run by the DOL; in 2022 the number was 11.


Both sides have an eye toward the upcoming negotiations. Whoever wins will lead a union that has been devastated by job cuts and outsourcing, with a membership that both candidates acknowledge is rightfully angry about how the 2022 contract was settled.

In their campaign materials, Sandberg and his Experience for Progress slate emphasize their years of leadership in the union, dismissing Murtagh and his slate as inexperienced. They point to recent wins including sick pay for workers at the Class I railroads, which many rail unions have won since the last contract was settled.

Sandberg, in an interview, conceded that information from the leadership in 2022 came “too little, too late,” and that the previous president “played close to the vest.” Sandberg said he had raised issues internally with the leadership about the lack of information going out to members and the lack of strike preparation.

Looking to the next round of negotiations, Sandberg said that the rail unions should be doing more to pressure the employers short of a strike: “They seem to not take into account the power that the members still have.”

Murtagh said he’s proud of the fight that he and his slate have put up against long odds: “I work full-time, I’ve got two kids, I’m the chairman of my local, and in my spare time I won [access to] a fair election. I’m pretty proud of that.

“Now I want to unify District 19, and the rest of the unions too, and get back some respect and dignity on the job.”

Joe DeManuelle-Hall is a staff writer and organizer at Labor Notes.