Posts Tagged ‘collective bargaining’

Panel Rules Unions Must Bargain Over Crew Size

July 31, 2021

Railroad labor unions suffered a setback this week when an arbitration panel ruled that crew size is an issue that is subject to collective bargaining.

Unions have long resisted bargaining over crew size on the national level, saying it should be a local issue.

But a federal arbitration panel decided this week that crew size is a national issue.

The decision found that standard moratorium language in decades-old labor agreements do not prohibit negotiations over crew size on freight trains.

Railroad management wants to change train crew staffing practices so that there would be one locomotive engineer per train but the job of the conductor would become more of a ground-based position with conductors having responsibility for multiple trains.

The 2-1 arbitration decision is binding and grew out of a lawsuit launched by the National Railway Labor Conference, which represents Class 1 railroads, to force unions to bargain over crew size in the current negotiations for a new contract.

The arbitration panel was made up of one member approved by labor, one approved by management and a neutral member who in this case is a California law professor and veteran arbitrator.

Contract talks have been ongoing for more than a year and in the meantime federal law requires the previous contract remain in effect until a new pact is reached and ratified by union members.

The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union’s Transportation Division (SMART-TD) saw a silver lining in the ruling that the arbitration panel did not mandate any particular outcome in negotiations.

The arbitration ruling also did not mandate that bargaining over crew size be done globally, meaning crew size talks with be done on a railroad-by-railroad basis.

The railroad industry and its unions began contract talks in November 2019 on wages, benefits and work rules.

Unions can be expected to continue seeking to get state legislatures to approve laws mandating two-per crews. Some Democrat members of Congress have introduced similar legislation that would apply nationwide.

The arbitration panel’s ruling requires SMART-TD to bargain with Class 1 railroads and some smaller carriers over crew size matters.

Railway Age reported the arbitration ruling affects more than 60 percent of the conductors at Class 1 railroads, including all conductors employed by BNSF and Norfolk Southern and half the conductors at Union Pacific.

Conductors employed by Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and CSX are not unaffected by the arbitration ruling because their unions were not parties to legal action resulting in the arbitration.

Kansas City Southern recently voluntarily withdrew its arbitration demand and was dismissed from the award by the arbitration panel majority. 

The Railway Age report indicated that railroads was pushing for more efficient operations because of an increasing reliance by carriers on intermodal traffic that is subject to diversion to trucking company, many of which have non-union operators who work for lower wages and benefits than those paid to unionized railroaders.

Intermodal traffic provides lower profit margins that some carload traffic – coal being a notable example – that railroad once relied upon for their financial well being.

Industry observers have noted that the development of positive train control has given railroads an opening to seek to reduce crew sizes by arguing that it will provide for safer operations and thus a second set of eyes in the cab are not needed.

Frank Wilner, who writes for Railway Age, has long argued that “no labor union ever has done better than slow the introduction of new technology.”

Class 1 Collective Bargaining to Start Jan. 26, CSX to Talk Separately With Unions on Wages and Work Rules

January 16, 2020

Collective bargaining between U.S. Class 1 railroads and their unions will get underway on Feb. 26 in Washington.

However, CSX has said that it plans to negotiate with the unions separately on wages and work rules.

The six Class 1 railroads make up the National Carriers’ Conference Committee that represents their interests in labor negotiations.

But CSX said this week it will only participate in that bargaining on matters of health and welfare. It is not clear when CSX will begin meeting with its unions other than it will be later this month.

Negotiating sessions this year involving the Carriers’ Conference are also slated to be held in Cleveland, Chicago and Omaha, Nebraska.

Labor unions, which represent 125,000 railroad workers that involved in the contract talks include: American Train Dispatchers Association, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, International Association of Machinists, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Transport Workers Union of America, Transportation Communications Union, and SMART-Transportation Division.

Contract negotiations take place every five years and are governed by the Railway Labor Act, which seeks to avoid major railroad strikes because of their potential to harm the U.S. economy.

Railroad labor agreements do not have expiration dates and negotiations can take years to complete.

Observes expect negotiations this year to be contentious as railroads push for single-person crews with conductors to be made into ground-based positions.

Railroads, Unions Bracing for Tough Talks

November 5, 2019

Class 1 railroads are seeking contract changes pertaining to minimum train-crew staffing related to implementation of train-safety enhancing positive train control as the industry begins its next round of collective bargaining.

The National Railway Labor Conference, which represents the carriers, has notified its 12 craft unions that it also wants to talk about employee cost-sharing of escalating healthcare insurance costs, and liberalization of work rules to allow carriers greater flexibility in assigning jobs.

In notifying the unions of its desire to begin direct contract negotiations in January, the NRLC said its broad proposals are seeking to address “the need to adapt workplace practices to modern technologies, aggressively move healthcare plan design and features toward mainstream standards and achieve better health outcomes, and reach an overall fair and competitive labor cost structure to position the railroads for long-term success in the face of the many industry challenges.”

The talks are expected to be continuous and if the most recent bargaining is any guide drag on for more than a year.

The last round of bargaining began in November 2014 and went through 2018 when the last of the craft unions ratified a new agreement.

The 1926 Railway Labor Act contains provisions to discourage work stoppages or lockouts. The last national railroad strike occurred in 1992.

Federal law also requires that the existing collective bargaining agreement does not expire.

However, the current pact had a contract reopening clause set for Jan. 1, 2020, and the carriers have exercised their right to invoke it.

In response, 10 of the 12 craft unions have formed a coordinated bargaining coalition. Those unions represent about 85 percent of the 125,000 unionized rail workers.

Unions in the bargaining coalition include the American Train Dispatchers Association, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, International Association of Machinists, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Transport Workers Union of America, Transportation Communications Union/Brotherhood Railway Carmen, and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Workers Transportation Division/Railroad Yardmasters of America.

The union coalition in a joint statement described the latest bargaining as the “most critical” in a generation.

The statement said the coalition understands “the importance of each union’s autonomy to pursue membership-specific goals within a framework of broad solidarity to defend and improve the wages, benefits and working conditions of our members.”

Two unions, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Workers Mechanical Division plan to negotiate with the carriers separately.

The 10-member union bargaining coalition is expected to resist many of the demands of the carriers, including the efforts to reduce crew size, change work rules, and reduce their compensation.

The carriers are expected to seek rule changes that will redeploy conductors to ground-based positions and to end the practice on most Class 1 railroads that each train have a two-person crew of a conductor and locomotive engineer.

The carriers have described this change as “a natural continuation [of the] evolution” that moved conductors from the caboose to locomotive cab as new technologies, such as end-of-train devices, were installed.”

Underlying these efforts is the desire of Class 1 railroads to recoup some of the billions of dollars they have invested in positive train control systems that have been mandated by federal law on many of their routes.

If unions refuse to negotiate over crew consist on a multi-carrier basis, or the parties are unable to agree on changes in crew consist, the carriers have said they will propose an adjustment to compensation.

The NCCC represents all of the Class 1 carriers and 24 smaller railroads, including Conrail Shard Assets, Belt Railway of Chicago and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis.

The Class 1 group also includes the U.S. operations of Canadian National, which still exist as separate entities on paper even if all operate under the CN umbrella.

Some railroads are in the bargaining entity for limited purposes.

CSX, for example, participates in national bargaining for wages, benefits and work rules that apply to non-operating-craft unions (such as clerical, mechanical and maintenance), but handles its own negotiations on wages and work rules with its operating craft unions representing train and engine workers.

An analysis published by Railway Age noted that since 2005, unionized rail-worker compensation (wages plus the value of benefits) has increased by 43 percent, versus 29 percent for other American workers.

Compensation of the highest paid rail workers has increased by some $33,000 annually while those on the lower wage rungs have seen their pay increase by about $16,000 annually.

The average compensation of rail workers of more than $120,000 annually places them among the top 6 percent of wage earners nationwide and above many occupations that require advanced college degrees.

However, Railway Age noted that with rail traffic in decline, coal traffic collapsing, and the U.S. economy slowing, in part due to trade wars and other global conditions, railroads economics are not what they once were.

The railroads are expected to seek changes in the compensation they pay their workers that are tied to market conditions and wages and benefits in comparable industries.

Class 1s Begin Bargaining With 12 Unions

November 2, 2019

Bargaining got underway this week between 12 railroad labor unions and the National Railway Labor Conference, which represents the nation’s Class 1 freight railroads.

The railroad industry has indicated that it wants the unions to agree to a new contract that better aligns pay to market conditions and pay levels of comparable industries.

In a news release, the NRLC said it also is seeking changes to health-plan design that would allow more cost sharing; and make changes to work rules, including those that affect train-crew staffing.

In doing this, the railroads also want to take into account the use of new technology, including developments in automation and safety, in railroad operations.

The NRLC said any new contract would ensure that railroad employees remain one of the best compensated workforces in America.

The bargaining affects working conditions and compensation for nearly 125,000 railroad employees represented by the unions.

Under the Railway Labor Act, current collective bargaining agreements remain in force indefinitely.

This is done to minimize service disruptions because of labor disputes.

The last time the unions and the NRLC launched negotiations it took four years to reach a new contract, which was ratified in 2018.