Foote Calls for New View of Workplace Culture

CSX CEO James Foote wants the railroad industry to rethink its relationship with its workers.

Speaking to the National Rail Shippers Conference last week, Foote said railroads need to discard the adversarial stance they often take with their workers and instead negotiate with them

“Lesson learned,” he said in reference to the difficulties CSX has been having hiring new workers. “People don’t want to work in the railroad business any more. People don’t like to work weekends. People don’t like to work nights. People like to go to their kids’ birthdays. People like to be home for Christmas.”

As Foote spoke about 40 union railroad workers picketed outside.

“We need to fundamentally review and understand the jobs that we offer to our employees,” Foote said.

“And I’ll tell you, it isn’t just about money. There’s been a mindset and a change in the world about what people want from the people they work for, and we need to change. And I’m talking about, primarily, that we need to change for the 85 percent of people who work for me that are in the union.”

Foote attributed the adversarial relationship railroads have with their employees in part to such federal laws as the Railway Labor Act and Federal Employers Liability Act.

Calling changing workplace relationships the biggest transformative change that CSX can make, Foote said his company needs to build better rapport with its workers.

“You sit down with your employees, you negotiate, and you come up with an agreement that’s beneficial to your company, and beneficial to your employees. It’s as simple as that,” Foote said. “That’s what every other business in the world does, and we need to put our big-boy pants on and get back into the negotiating arena.”

One complication to this is the fact that railroads negotiate with unions on an industry-wide basis. Foote suggested CSX might withdraw from those talks and work out contracts with unions on its own.

The nation’s railroads and it unions are in the third year of talks for a new contract.

However, he also suggested that the entire negotiating process needs to be examined as well.

In the meantime, Foote said CSX is unlikely to reach pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels of staffing until the third quarter of this year.

Before the pandemic, CSX had 7,100 train and engine employees. Like other Class 1 railroads, CSX has blamed freight service issues that were the subject of a recent U.S. Surface Transportation Board hearing on crew shortages.

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One Response to “Foote Calls for New View of Workplace Culture”

  1. pwwoodring Says:

    I was willing to work 50 hours a week for CSX, maybe occasionally more in a pinch. I always knew that railroaders worked day and night, weekends and holidays, but when it got to be 65-70 hours most weeks without any kind of way to get a day off if one was just worn out, then that was it for me. And I really loved being an engineer. The answer is hiring enough people so you don’t have to take the whip to them all the time, treating them fairly, and paying them decently. When I left, most crewmen were making about what they did 30 years before, working more hours to get there. That has something to do with the fact that the average railroad retiree only lives about three years on pension. I certainly would NEVER want to face management without a union behind me. Mr. Foote is either lying to himself or thinks the workers are fools to fall for his line.

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