Class 1 Railroads Eye Ground-Based Conductor Position Pilot Programs, Giving Workers Sick Days

Union Pacific is reportedly amenable to granting sick days to its operating workers. At the same time the Class 1 carrier is talking with its unions about launching a pilot program to move conductors to ground-based positions, something that Class 1 railroads sought but failed to achieve during the most recent negotiations to amend the labor contract with 12 railroad unions.

UP contends that moving conductors to trucks would give them more predictable work schedules and make the job more efficient.

Conductors would be assigned to a fixed base and thus would be able to return home every night.

Trains magazine reported the developments in a pair of stories posted on its website.

The ground-based positions – which UP is calling “expediters” – were discussed by a UP vice president during a hearing held this week by the Federal Railroad Administration on a proposed two crew member rule.

UP’s argument to the FRA is that positive train control has significantly reduced the conductor’s tasks and a ground-based worker would be better able to handle troubleshooting and fixing mechanical problems encountered while a train is out on the road.

Busy mainlines would have multiple “expediters” on duty at all times.

The Trains story also reported that Norfolk Southern is talking with its unions about a similar pilot program.

During the hearing, Tom Schnautz, NS vice president of advanced train control, said the carrier wants to use ground-based conductors in local service.

Schnautz said a conductor would arrive at a customer facility to line switches and perform other tasks before a train arrives.

The Trains story about the FRA hearing can be read at

As for paid sick leave, UP CEO Lance Fritz said during a U.S. Surface Transportation Board hearing on UP service issues that he would favor sick leave for union workers and providing certainty regarding scheduled days off.

“We definitely want to address sick leave and certainty in time off in terms of scheduling … There’s a host of ways we can get there,” Fritz said. “There’s economics that are available to make that happen. And we are committed to making that happen this coming year.”

UP is conducting a pilot program in Kansas that makes work schedules for locomotive engineers more predictable.

Richard Edelman, a lawyer representing several rail unions including the SMART-Transportation Division, said during the hearing that union workers are angry about the way they have been treated in recent years.

“I don’t think you can even calculate the fury over the lack of personal time, the lack of sick time, the furloughs of their coworkers,” he said.

Edelman said some railroad workers are likely to leave their jobs once they receive back pay and a one-time bonus dictated by a new national contract.

The Trains story can be read at

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