Posts Tagged ‘railroad strikes’

Rail Labor Strife Far From Settled

September 22, 2022

A week ago railroad labor peace seemed to be at hand. After an all-night bargaining session in which Labor Secretary Marty Walsh leaned on the parties to make concessions, a tentative agreement was announced around dawn, less than 24 hours before unions under federal railroad labor law were free to strike and their employers were free to lock them out.

Leaders of unions representing locomotive engineers and conductors touted the gains they achieved in modifying work rule pertaining to attendance policies, a 24 percent compounded wage increase over the life of the five-year contract, and heading off railroad management’s determination – for now at least – to restructure the jobs of conductors.

But those tentative agreements came with an important caveat. They are subject to ratification by union members.

Even before the last three unions agreed to a tentative contract, members of one union had rejected the tentative pact their leaders had negotiated earlier and members of two other unions had approved their tentative agreements.

The ratification process won’t be completed among remaining unions for another couple of weeks.

But there is a realistic prospect that the nation could be back to where it was last week with a strike and/or lockout looming again.

Some union workers have taken to social media to blast the agreements, saying they don’t go far enough.

It remains unclear if that is the view of a majority of union rail workers or merely griping by a loud minority.

In a commentary posted Wednesday on the website of Railway Age, Frank Wilner suggested that even if the rank and file union members vote to reject the agreements reached between their unions and the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management, there is precedent for union leadership “overriding” the contract rejections.

Wilner, who has written extensively about railroad labor issues for Railway Age and published a book about the federal Railway Labor Act, said there are two scenarios in which that could happen.

Union leaders could cite clauses in the union’s constitution for imposing the contract despite the vote of the rank and file to reject it, or union leadership could reach an agreement with railroad management to submit the contract issue to binding arbitration.

Wilner cited two instances in which union leaders did those things. One instance involved the then-named United Transportation Union in 1996 and the Teamsters in 2018.

You can read Wilner’s column at https://www.railwayage.com/freight/class-i/might-union-chiefs-override-member-vote/

Pay particular attention to the political calculus that might drive union leaders to ignore the will of their members if they vote to reject the tentative agreements.

Even if railroad workers vote to ratify the tentative agreements, that doesn’t mean the restlessness in the ranks that has boiled over in recent months will go away despite the gains that union leaders said they made regarding work rules.

Trains magazine write Bill Stephens offered a thoughtful analysis of the turbulent times that might lie ahead in the wake of the current round of tentative contract agreements.

One scenario he offered is that some workers might stay in their jobs long enough to collect their back pay and then leave.

If large numbers of workers do that, it would set back the efforts of Class 1 railroads to recruit enough workers to alleviate the crew shortages they’ve been experiencing of late and which they claim is the root cause of their service issues.

You can read Stephen’s column at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/rail-strike-averted-for-now-but-the-industrys-not-out-of-the-woods-yet-analysis/

The analysis ends with the observation that the railroad industry needs stability and less uncertainty. “The best way to go about it would be for labor and management to iron out their differences,” Stephens wrote.

Few would disagree with that. Retiring CSX CEO James Foote suggested as much in remarks made a few months ago.

Yet what if some differences between labor and management are irreconcilable?

Labor-management conflict is inevitable in every workplace because the self-interests of the two don’t always align.

Some of what railroad workers seem to want railroad management is never going to agree to give them.

Managers believe it is their place to set workplace rules. They call it management prerogative. Management might be willing to negotiate on some of those rules, but not all of them.

It is noteworthy that the tentative agreements may have eased some of the rules regarding attendance policies, but the pacts left untouched management’s right to set those policies, including policies that penalize workers for unauthorized absences.

In the meantime, everyone is waiting to see how the union members vote on ratification.

I would expect union leaders to lean hard on them to vote “yes.”

And if they don’t? A strike or lockout is not out of the question. How will it end? Probably not the way that many workers think that it will or hope that it will.

Railroads Continue to Prepare for Work Stoppage, Senators Introduce Bill to Impose Contract Terms

September 13, 2022

As railroads begin to embargo traffic ahead of a possible national railroad strike and/or lockout that could begin as early as Friday, legislation has been introduced in the Senate to settle the dispute.

Amtrak said it would suspend service on four long-distance routes in advance of a possible railroad work stoppage.

The Senate resolution would force railroad labor unions and railroads to accept the recommendations made last month by a presidential emergency board.

It was introduced by Sens. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi).

Negotiations for a new contract have been ongoing for more than two years with unions representing locomotive engineers and train conductors at loggerheads with management over wages, benefits and work rules.

To date, eight of the 12 railroad labor unions have reached tentative contract agreements with the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management in the negotiations.

Those agreements have been described in statements issued by the two sides as generally following the recommendations of the PEB.

The PEB issued its recommendations on Aug. 16 and under federal law strikes and/or lockouts are prohibited for 30 days following that. The 30-day cooling off period will expire at 12:01 a.m. on Friday.

Amtrak said it will suspend service today on the routes of the Southwest Chief, Empire Builder, California Zephyr and portions of the route of the Texas Eagle.

The latter involves the Los Angeles to San Antonio segment of the Texas Eagle route, which overlaps with the route of the Sunset Limited.

The passenger carrier said suspensions could expand to all routes outside the Northeast Corridor by the end of the week.

The Amtrak statement said suspensions being imposed today will ensure that the affected trains can reach their endpoint terminals before a strike and/or lockout begins.

Although neither Amtrak or its workers are parties to the railroad labor negotiations, the passenger carrier uses track owned by freight railroads where a strike and/or lockout may occur.

In the event of a strike and/or lockout, Amtrak said it would continue operating trains that wholly use track that it owns or is owned by public agencies.

This includes the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington; the line between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts; the Empire Corridor between New York and Albany-Rensselaer, New York; and the Keystone Corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

An Amtrak statement said passengers affected by service suspensions due to the labor dispute will be contacted and offered the opportunity to change their travel dates or offered a full refund of their fare without any cancellation fees.

In a related developments, Class 1 railroads have begun embargoing certain types of shipments starting today.

Norfolk Southern told its shippers that it will stop accepting intermodal and automotive traffic.

The NS notice said it will close the gates for loaded or empty intermodal units at its terminals as of noon Tuesday and would also stop accepting traffic at on-dock port facilities and privately owned intermodal terminals.

The notice said the gates would remain open for intermodal pickup until further notice. Customers using railroad-operated EMP and TMX containers will be unable to make reservations after 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday. They will be able to return empty containers to NS terminals as normal until further notice.

Automotive traffic gates will close at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, with an embargo on auto traffic beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

The railroad also said it is planning “for the orderly lay down of trains in the bulk network” and will contact customers moving bulk commodities in unit trains with specific details.

CSX has also began on Monday an embargo of “high hazardous, toxic by inhalation and poisonous by inhalation” cargo.

Class 1 Carriers Embargoing Traffic in Advance of Possible Railroad Strike Later This Week.

September 12, 2022

With the prospect of a railroad strike looming late this week, Class 1 railroads said over the weekend they are implementing plans to park hazardous materials starting today (Sept. 12).

Norfolk Southern said it would begin parking trains that did not include hazardous cargo as early as Tuesday.

The Class 1 carriers began sending notices to shippers last Friday to warn them of potential service disruptions should a strike occur.

In a joint statement, leaders of the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers called the moves by a carriers scare tactics.

“The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our unions to cave into their contract demands knowing that our members would never accept them,” the union presidents wrote.

The Association of American Railroads said in a statement that among the hazardous materials that railroads are sidelining in anticipation of a strike are chlorine, which is used to purify drinking water, and chemicals used in fertilizer.

“Railroads are taking all measures necessary to handle sensitive cargo in accordance with federal regulations to ensure that no such cargo is left on an unattended or unsecured train in the event of a work stoppage due to an impasse in labor negotiations,” AAR said.

The AAR statement said the anticipatory actions being taken by railroads do not mean a work stoppage is certain.

BNSF asked its shippers to contract members of Congress “to let them know the impact a rail service interruption would have on your business and your customers.”

Some railroad industry observes believe that the Sept. 16 deadline to reach new agreements might be extended because eight railroad labor unions have reached tentative agreements and extending the deadline would give members of those unions additional time to complete the ratification process.