Oberman Says RRs Need to Pay Crews More

U.S. Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman appears to be putting his thumb on the scales in favor of labor unions in their negotiations for a new contract with the nation’s major railroads.

In an interview with Trains magazine, Oberman said rail freight service is suffering because BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific are not paying enough to retain and recruit train crews.

“There is a price that will get you enough workers,” Oberman told Trains during the interview, which was conducted before a congressional hearing. “I don’t know what that price is. But everything has a price.”

Oberman said during the interview that federal regulators have no plans to mandate crew levels even though he linked those to the quality of service that railroads provide.

However, he made it clear his belief that paying crews more money would alleviate the crew shortages that the carriers say are the root cause of their service issues.

“If you need another 400 crews to move those trains that are sitting out there, pay whatever price you need to get them,” Oberman told Trains. “Don’t come in and tell me it’s hard to hire. And it’s not like they can’t afford it. They’re paying out billions and billions every year in stock buybacks. You could use some of that to get the workforce you need.”

During hearings held by the STB last spring to investigate the ongoing rail freight service issues, Class 1 railroad executives argued the crew shortages are due to factors that are largely out of their control.

Specifically, the executives said, workers who were furloughed during a recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t return to work once recalled. The railroad executives also cited higher than normal attrition rates among its work force and a tight labor market.

Some executives even talked about it being tough to hire conductors due to the nature of the job involving working outdoors at all hours in all kinds of weather, and being away from home a lot.

Wages and benefits have been a major sticking point in labor negotiations over the past three years with unions reportedly seeking more money than the carriers are willing to pay.

By some reports, the unions are seeking a 31 percent wage increase while the railroads have offered 17 percent over a five-year period.

The dispute is now being reviewed by a presidential emergency board that will make non-binding recommendations for a settlement.

If either side rejects those recommendations, they would be free to engage in a strike or lockout a month after the PEB issues its findings.

Although railroads have raised the wages of their new conductors and offered signing bonuses to new hires and retention bonuses to existing train operating personnel, Oberman told Trains those financial incentives are falling short and that railroad employment has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels.

“The railroads are not offering sufficient rewards – a combination of quality of life and compensation – to keep people there,” he said. “There’s a price at which people will stay.”

The story can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/stb-chairman-says-higher-pay-would-help-solve-railroad-crew-shortages/

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One Response to “Oberman Says RRs Need to Pay Crews More”

  1. pwwoodring Says:

    If they treated crews like human beings with needs to have a life outside of work then they might not have as much trouble getting employees. Sixty to 70 hours per week with no chance to say no is not any kind of sustainable life.

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