Union Leaders Skeptical of Foote’s Comments

Although labor unions representing CSX appreciate some of the moves the carrier has made in recent months to improve management-employer relations, they are taking with a grain of salt recent comments made by CEO James Foote about his desire to improve the working relationship.

Trains magazine said the labor leaders it interviewed described the relationship with management as the worst it has been in decades. They were speaking about railroads generally and not CSX in particular.

Foote has spoken about the need to improve relations with workers in recent weeks and last week during a speech to the North American Rail Shippers conference he said creating better rapport with workers would be the biggest transformative change the industry could make.

Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said he was “flabbergasted” by Foote’s comments because CSX has not met with the union since January and no contract negotiations are currently scheduled.

“He’s got the tools to fix it and he’s never used them. So we’re not sure what he’s talking about,” Pierce said.

In the eyes of union leaders Foote has been sending mixed messages. During a late April hearing by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board into freight service issues, Foote said the railroad’s crew shortage problems would disappear overnight if it could use one-person crews.

According to the Trains report, labor leaders see massive layoffs and operational changes prompted by the move to the precision scheduled railroading model as a major source of tension.

Other sources of conflict include what labor sees as punitive attendance policies, stalled contract negotiations, and no pay increases since 2019.

Unions see the desire of railroads to have one-person crews as a major reason why contract talks have stalemated.

Railroad industry management has not hidden its desire to reassign most conducts to ground-based roving positions in set territories. Conductors would be responsible for multiple trains within their territories and follow them in trucks or SUVs.

Union leaders acknowledge that CSX has taken some steps toward improving its relations with labor.

It has begun offering attendance bonuses to workers to stay marked up, has softened some discipline policies and boosted pay for new conductors.

Trains quoted industry observer Todd Tranausky as saying labor relations in the railroad industry are strained.

“But there is always tension between labor and management in any industry when large changes driven by automation are on the horizon, so it should not come as a surprise,” said Tranausky, vice president of rail and intermodal at freight forecasting firm FTR Transportation Intelligence.

The article can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/labor-leaders-skeptical-of-ceo-talk-of-improving-railroads-relationship-with-rank-and-file/

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