Posts Tagged ‘Railroad labor unions’

BLET to Poll Members on Strike Vote

June 24, 2022

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said this week it will poll its members about authorizing a strike if it is unable to reach a new contract that it agrees with.

President Dennis Pierce said conducting the strike vote doesn’t mean a strike will occur.

He said in a statement that a strike, though, could become a tactic to seek to reach the union’s goals during collective bargaining.

The National Mediation Board earlier this month released BLET and other railroad labor unions from mediation with the major railroads, which created a 30-day cooling off period under federal law.

That period ends at 12:01 a.m. on July 18 at which time union members would be free to strike and management would be free to lock workers out of the workplace.

However, another cooling off period could be triggered if the Biden administration appoints a presidential emergency board to investigate the dispute and issue recommendations for solving it.

Pierce said union leaders expect Biden to appoint an emergency board, but the union wants to be “prepared for all eventualities.”

NMD Releases Rail Unions From Mediation

June 15, 2022

The National Mediation Board on Tuesday released railroad labor unions from mediation with railroad management for a new contract, thus setting up the potential for a rail shutdown 90 days from now.

The NMB sided with the unions in their request to be released from mediation. The Mediation board also approved a union request to offer the two sides in the dispute binding arbitration.

A report on the website of Railway Age said the NMB’s 2-1 ruling in essence means the agency doesn’t believe that the two sides will be able to reach a voluntary agreement for a new contract.

The contract negotiations have drug on since January 2020 and involve 12 unions representing more than 115,000 workers.

The National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management, opposed the request of the unions that they be released from mediation.

Although the NCCC represents management, CSX is bargaining separately with two unions representing operating workers over wages and work rules but not benefits. Canadian Pacific negotiates separately with all of its U.S. labor unions.

Under the federal Railway Labor Act, labor agreements never expire but can be amended.

The law also sets up a series of steps that must be followed before management can lock out workers or the workers can strike. The NMB declaring an impasse is one of those steps.

The Railway Age report said the NMB vote followed party lines in the sense that the two members who voted in favor of release are Democrats while the dissenter is a Republican.

The report said there is widespread speculation the unions are seeking to force Congress to settle the dispute just weeks before the November elections because they believe they will get a better settlement from a Congress controlled by Democrats.

They also appear to be banking on the belief that no political office holders want to see a rail stoppage before an election and at a time when the nation’s supply chain is still struggling to overcome product shortages.

It is not clear if either side will accept the proffer of binding arbitration. Unions have been loathe to accept binding arbitration because it means their members would not be able to vote on the contract terms set by the arbitration panel.

If the binding arbitration panel is turned down, the first of a series of 30-day cooling off periods will be set in motion.

The Biden administration is expected to appoint a presidential emergency board to make non-binding recommendations to settle the dispute.

If one or both sides reject those, the unions would be free to strike and management would be free to impose a lockout once the last of the cooling off periods has expired.

Federal law does not require Congress to settle rail disputes, but traditionally it has due to the importance of rail transportation to the economy and national defense.

The Railway Age report can be read at

Labor Unions Want Release from Negotiations

June 7, 2022

Twelve railroad labor unions want to be released from bargaining with the nation’s railroads for a new contract.

Instead the unions, which make up the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition, want the National Mediation Board to “put forth a proffer of arbitration.”

The unions have been in mediation overseen by the NMB with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents Class 1 and other railroads.

The two sides have been at odds over contract negotiations, including changes in wages, benefits and work rules. The unions involved represent 115,000 railroad workers.

Railway Age magazine reported on its website that the recent mediation sessions have been unusual in that they involved members of the NMB rather than just staff members.

The magazine reported that the NMB is under political pressure to prevent a national railroad work stoppage through a negotiated settlement.

The NMB plans to continue mediations today (June 7) and Wednesday.

The strategy of the unions appears to be to get the NMB to declare an impasse, which would start a 90-day clock under federal railroad labor law that could lead to the unions going on strike.

The Railway Age report said traditionally the NMB has sought to keep both sides in labor disputes talking during an election year.

If the mediation agency does declare an impasse, the next step would be to offer both sides binding arbitration, something the report said is rarely accepted by both.

If each side rejects arbitration, a presidential emergency board is likely to be appointed to hear arguments from each side and them make non-binding recommendations for a settlement.

Rejection of the PEB recommendations by either side would leave management free to lock out workers and unions free to strike.

A rail shutdown regardless of who instigated it likely would force Congress to adopt back to work legislation.

Foote Calls for New View of Workplace Culture

May 16, 2022

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.

Unions Reject Advance Pay Hike Proposal

April 26, 2022

Railroad labor unions have rejected a proposal by railroad management to give union workers advance payments that would be expected to be due under a future collective bargaining agreement.

The proposal by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee would have paid workers advance payments of up to $600 per month.

After the unions turned down the offer, the NCCC said it would leave the offer on the table in case the unions changed their mind.

The advance pay proposal is similar to one that CSX reached recently with its workers who are members of the SMART Transportation Division.

In statements issued following their rejection of the NCCC advance pay proposal, unions described the offer as inadequate.

The 10 unions, which are represented by the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition, have been bargaining with the NCCC since January 2020.

Those talks were slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and even in the best of circumstances it can take years to reach an agreement.

The talks are currently in mediation before the National Mediation Board, which earlier this month rejected a request by the SMART Mechanical Division and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division to be relieved of mediation with the NCCC.

The CBC in a statement accused the NCCC of not negotiating in good faith.

The statement cited how Class 1 railroads have reported record fourth quarter 2021 profits and record first quarter 2022 profits and then refused to withdraw their demands for work rule and health and welfare concessions. 

“Even more ridiculous and unacceptable is their refusal to agree to meaningful wage increases while making record profits during the highest level of inflation seen in years,” the CBC statement said.

It said the NCCC offer of an advance pay hike would have to be repaid from any back pay payments that may be in the ultimate national contract settlement, and said the offer was somewhere between a loan and a pay day advance.

For its part, the NCCC said in a statement, “Rail employees work hard and deserve compensation increases that keep them among the best paid employees in the nation.”

The NCCC statement described the issues in the current collective bargaining talks as complex “and there is more work to be done before complete agreements can be finalized.”

Railway Age contributing editor Frank Wilner wrote on the trade journal’s website that it appears the unions are seeking release from mediation so that “they can set in motion Railway Labor Act provisions leading to a nationwide railroad work stoppage this summer.”

Another Union Blasts Railroads, Professor Says PSR Not the Only Cause of Rail Service Issues

April 13, 2022

Another railroad labor organization has weighed in on the service issues afflicting U.S. Class 1 railroads by saying in a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that the carriers need more regulatory oversight.

“It is clear that a lack of oversight has allowed Class I railroads to operate in a manner that is harmful to shippers, employees, and the American public, and these issues will not resolve out of self-regulation by the carriers,” wrote Greg Ragan, president of The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

The letter noted that in the previous five years before the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced that Norfolk Southern reduced its operating personnel by 24 percent.

The letter was in support of a similar plea made to the Board by the National Grain and Feed Association, which blamed the adoption of the precision scheduled railroading operating model for a deterioration of rail freight service.

“It is completely unsurprising that this would result in crew shortages and rigid inflexibility in the network,” Regan wrote. “These cuts have occurred with complete impunity for the railroads, and we continue to urge the Board to consider the impacts of these ill-considered mass layoffs on service quality.”

The Transportation Trades Department includes unions representing locomotive engineers, conductors, train dispatchers, and maintenance-of-way employees.

In a related development, a professor who studies railroad operations told a shippers conference last week that the service woes besetting Class 1 railroads are the result of a combination of forces and not just due to the widespread adoption of the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

Trains magazine reported on its website that Peter Swan, associate professor of logistics and operations management at Penn State Harrisburg, said that although PSR has played a role in causing service woes other forces affecting freight service include the COVID-19 pandemic, rising demand for freight transportation, and labor shortages.

Speaking to the North East Association of Rail Shippers conference, Swan said a system that is designed for maximum efficiency doesn’t do well when disruptions occur as has happened with the global supply chain.

Congestion in the supply chain results in longer shipper times which in turn require more resources, which transportation companies may not be able to provide on short notice.

Swan noted that it is not just labor shortages at railroads that have hamstrung transportation. Also playing a role are worker and equipment shortages at warehouses, ports and intermodal terminals

“If it takes eight days instead of six days, that means you need another 30 percent of chassis, which we don’t have,” Swan said. “As a result, we get congestion because containers are sitting at ports, they’re sitting at rail terminals. That lowers driver productivity. So, now we need more drivers than we had before.”

The Trains report said Swan has long been critical of PSR, but said he doesn’t see the operating model as the primary cause of service failures.

He indicated during his remarks that he is not sure if the failure of railroads to maintain their work force is entirely their fault.

Reducing capacity by changing the way railroad yards operate, making operational changes and maintaining a smaller locomotive fleet have all played a role, Swan said.

At the same time he said some PSR practices are good management and have had positive effects. It is just that management’s actions have had negative consequences when traffic is disrupted or demand surges above normal.

More of Swan’s remarks can be found on the Trains website at

Union OKs New Pact with South Shore Freight

April 9, 2022

Members of the SMART Transportation Division at the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad have ratified a new contract.

The five-year pact covers 32 workers, including locomotive engineers, conductors and brakemen.

The contract runs from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2026.

The South Shore is a unit of Anacostia Rail Holdings and provides freight service on 127 route miles between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, and Chicago and Kingsbury, Indiana.

It transports 60,000 carloads annually of steel products, chemicals, coal, grain, minerals, scrap metal, pig iron and roofing materials.

Although it uses some of the same tracks as the South Shore Line commuter railroad, the two operations are separate and not under the same ownership.

Union Rips PSR in Letter to STB

April 6, 2022

The adoption of the precision scheduled railroading operating model is the culprit behind service issues that Class 1 railroads are having, a railroad labor union has told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The SMART Transportation Division wrote in the April 1 letter that the nation’s freight railroad network is “at a breaking point” and “cannot sustain any more reductions.” The union, which represents 40,000 railroad workers, wants the STB to intervene.

The letter said crew shortages that Class 1 railroads have blamed for service issues are self-inflicted hindrances that railroads brought on by their adoption of PSR.

The concerns raised by the union are similar to those raised earlier this spring by a trade association that represents grain shippers.

Railroads reduced their worker ranks during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic when freight traffic plunged.

But after traffic began rebounding, some furloughed workers chose not to return to their railroad jobs. The Class 1 carriers have characterized this as being higher than usual compared with previous times when furloughed workers were recalled.

The union letter said about 33 percent of the country’s railroad workforce was laid off when PSR was initially implemented and thousands of locomotives were placed in storage.

One hallmark of how PSR has been implemented in the United States by Class 1 railroads is operating fewer, but longer, trains.

Class 1 railroads have been actively seeking to hire new conductors in areas with acute crew shortages but have bumped up against a tight labor market.

The union letter cited other operational changes that have adversely affected freight service.

It said that in an effort to save fuel crews have been restricted from operating trains at maximum authorized speeds.

“ . . . they are directed to limit the locomotive’s throttle position, acceleration, and overall train speed to no more than forty  mph. This not only impedes system fluidity, but it greatly hamstrings a railroad’s ability to service customers.”

As the union sees it, Class 1 railroads are now in a position of not having enough crew members or locomotives “to operate the necessary number of trains required to provide a level of service that equals the current level of demand.”

The union’s letter also took aim at railroad attendance policies that the union said require train crews to work 29 out of 30 days per month.

 “Not only has morale dropped to an all-time low, but employees are also leaving the industry in unprecedented numbers,” the union wrote.

Court Rejects Local Bargaining by Union

April 6, 2022

An effort by a railroad labor union to engage in local negotiations over wages and benefits was rejected by a federal court.

The court ruled that the Railway Labor Act does not allow the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to seek local negotiations with some railroads.

National contract negotiations between railroad labor unions and major railroads have been underway since 2020. It is common for those negotiations to last for several years before reaching agreement on a new contract.

So long as negotiations continue the unions cannot strike. Currently, the parties are involved in mediation in an effort to hammer out a new agreement.

CP Work Stoppage Ends, Sides Agree to Submit their Dispute to Binding Arbitration

March 23, 2022

Canadian Pacific began resuming operations on Tuesday after it and one of its unions agreed to submit their contract dispute to binding arbitration.

The railroad began shutting down on Sunday in a Iabor dispute involving 3,000 locomotive engineers, conductors, and train and yard workers represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.

At the time, CP described it as a strike while the union described it as a lockout, although TCRC later pronounced it both.

Negotiations for a new contract had been ongoing since last September with the two sides at odds over wages, pensions and work rules.

In recent weeks the talks have been mediated by a member of the Canadian Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

In a statement, the union said that although binding arbitration is not its preferred method of resolving disputes, it was able to “negotiate terms and conditions that were in the best interest of our members.”

The union said it would have no further comment until the arbitration process is completed.