Posts Tagged ‘Railroad workers’

Canada Grants Paid Sick Leave to Rail Workers

December 4, 2022

On the same day that the U.S. Senate failed to approve sick leave days for unionized railroad workers, the Canadian government announced that rail workers in that county will now have up to 10 paid sick leave days a year.

Canadian Minister of Labor Seamus O’Regan Jr. said railroads are covered under legislation changing the Canada Labor Code to extend sick leave policies to workers in the private sector.

Workers must have been continuously employed for at least 30 days to qualify for paid sick leave.

The policy is effective Dec. 31. Another change that was made that will be effective Dec. 18 is to increase the maximum length of unpaid medical leave from 17 to 27 weeks.

“One thing COVID-19 made crystal clear is that when you’re sick, you should stay home,” said O’Regan Jr. “Ten days of paid sick leave means that more workers won’t have to choose between getting well and getting paid. That’s good for workers and their families, and it’s good for business, too.”

Changing Rail Culture Won’t be Quick or Easy

November 26, 2022

Much has been written in the past several months about the lives of railroad locomotive engineers and conductors.

Much of that has come from railroaders themselves and is part of a larger strategy by their unions to gain leverage in the negotiations to amend the contract that governs wages, benefits and work rules of unionized railroad workers.

A common theme has been improving the work-life balance of railroad workers.

One of the most thoughtful commentaries I’ve read was published on the website of Railway Age by Doug Riddel, a retired Amtrak locomotive engineer.

Riddel comes from a railroad family and his essay places the current railroad labor dispute in a historical context. You can read the essay at https://www.railwayage.com/news/not-my-grandfathers-railroad/

I highly recommend this piece because it generally avoids inflammatory rhetoric that brings more heat than light to a contentious matter.

Yet it is significant for what Riddel doesn’t say. First, let’s hear from Doug himself.

“Today’s railroad is not [emphasize in original] my grandfather’s railroad, nor is it the one I once worked for. Today’s railroaders are not the old heads. Quality of life is now front and center in contract negotiations. Like it or not, it is [emphasis in original] the driving issue, and will continue to be. It must be dealt with.”

The work-life balance conundrum has been written about at length by Trains magazine correspondent Bill Stephens and Railway Age Washington correspondent Frank Wilner.

Speakers at transportation conferences have called for changes in the relationship between railroads and their operating employees. Retired CSX CEO James Foote said as much earlier this year.

But one key component is missing from those writings and speeches.

No one has laid out a realistic blueprint for how to create that change nor have they defined what its scope should be or could be.

Instead, they have intimated that workplace changes could be or should be addressed in the current round of negotiations between unions and railroad management over amending their contract.

Maybe it will be addressed in the contract “settlement” but that probably won’t be the case.

It remains to be seen how committed everyone is toward changing what they see as undesirable yet is all they know and have experienced.

Saying that something needs to change is not the same thing as making change.

Maybe those speakers and writers haven’t laid out a blueprint because they don’t have one. I can’t criticize them for that because I don’t have one either.

What I do have is the knowledge that organizational change never comes easy or quickly.

Organizational culture and behavior don’t just happen. They are a response to years of experience, the environment in which the organization operates, and what an organization does for its livelihood.

Railroading by nature is a 24/7/365 endeavor. Freight and passengers move 24 hours a day, seven days a week every day of the year.

If you work as a locomotive engineer or conductor you are guaranteed to being called into work on weekends, holidays and nights with few exceptions.

You are guaranteed that your workplace is largely outdoors and subject to extreme cold, heat, moisture and whatever else Mother Nature has in store on any given day.

You are guaranteed to miss milestone events in the lives of your children, to be away from home a lot, and to spend long hours on the job amid some uncertainty about when or even where your shift will end.

You are not even guaranteed to make it home without having suffered a major injury at work or even to make it home alive.

I’ve heard enough stories from railroaders to also know railroaders are guaranteed to have to contend with prickly middle managers who want you to do something that might cost you your job if things go haywire.

Most if not all organizations like to talk about culture changes, but more often than not those efforts are little more than talk.

Foote talked about achieving a situation in which those who want to earn more money by working would come to work during times when those who would rather be home would be able to do that.

On the surface this sounds like a win-win outcome. But is it realistic?

I won’t say that change in railroad working culture is impossible. I will say it is unlikely to play out on the scale that some are hinting needs to happen.

There is a value to essays and speeches that hammer home the message that there needs to be a better work-life balance for railroaders. The more railroad management hears that message the less it is a foreign idea and, perhaps, the less management will resist change because “this is the way we’ve always done things around here.”

Nonetheless, some of these speeches and essays are raising unrealistic expectations of what might be accomplished whether through negotiations, Congressional action, or management fiat.

Railroaders may win the coveted sick pay they are seeking, but that will only improve their work-life balance so much.

I don’t doubt railroaders have legitimate grievances or that management is exploiting workers to please Wall Street investors which in turn boosts the compensation that CEOs and top railroad executives earn.

Yeah, working on the railroad can be a tough way to make a living. Always has been, always will be. There is only so much that can be changed even if the will or desire to do so is there.

Much of what complicates the lives of railroaders is inherent in the work they do.

NS Provides Incentives to Hire New Conductors

July 22, 2022

Norfolk Southern is paying conductor trainees $25 an hour with a minimum of $200 earnings per shift.

It is one of many steps the carrier has taken to address shortages of train and engine workers.

Conductor trainees are eligible for an on-the-job training incentive of $300 per bi-weekly pay period, provided they make themselves available to work.

At priority locations, conductor trainees can earn up to $5,000 in starting bonuses. Among those locations are Bellevue and Cincinnati in Ohio; Conway Yard and Harrisburg in Pennsylvania; Elkhart, Peru, Fort Wayne and Princeton in Indiana; and Louisville in Kentucky.

Conductor trainees at other locations can earn up to $2,500 in starting bonuses.

NS said in a statement that during their first year of employment conductors earn an average of $67,000, “and have the potential to earn more each year as they increase in levels of seniority.”

Prospective NS conductors do not need previous railroad operating experience. They must be at least 18 years of age, successfully complete a background check, and meet physical requirements.

The first three weeks of training take place at the NS training center in McDonough, Georgia. Remaining training occurs at or near their hiring location.

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.

NS Offering Bonuses to Conductor Hires

February 19, 2022

Bonuses of up to $5,000 are being offered by Norfolk Southern to newly-hired conductor trainees in several “priority” locations including Cincinnati and Conway Yard near Pittsburgh.

The bonuses are part of an effort by the Class 1 railroad to fill a shortage of operating employees.

Other priority locations include Binghamton and Buffalo; New York; Louisville, Kentucky; Manassas and Roanoke, Virginia; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Birmingham and Sheffield, Alabama; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Linwood, North Carolina.

Conductors hired in other locations will receive a $2,500 bonus.

NS said trainees who reach qualification are guaranteed minimum annual pay of $52,000, a figure that increases to $63,500 within four years.

In its recruiting pitch, NS said conductors promoted to locomotive engineer earn a minimum pay of about $94,000 with many NS engineers pulling down more than $100,000 annually.

Rail Workers With COVID-19 Sets Record

January 8, 2022

Using data from the Federal Railroad Administration, Trains magazine reported this week on its website that the number of railroad workers infected with COVID-19 has reached its highest point of the pandemic.

That occurred for the week ending Jan. 1, eclipsing a mark set for the week ending Jan. 9, 2021.

The Trains report said 2,171 railroad workers had contracted COVID-19 while 2,551 were in quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

The figures include Class 1 and short line railroads as well as Amtrak and commuter railroads.

Class 1 Employment Down 0.02% in May

June 24, 2021

Class I railroads employed 115,508 workers in mid-May, a 0.02 percent increase from April’s level but down 2.84 percent year over year.

U.S. Surface Transportation Board statistics show that four of six employment categories posted gains between mid-April and mid-May.

Maintenance of way and structures was up 0.55 percent to 28,690 workers; transportation (train and engine), was up 0.2 percent to 47,044; executives, officials and staff assistants, was up 0.17 percent to 7,278; and transportation (other than train and engine), was up 0.13 percent to 4,721.

Showing declines were maintenance of equipment and stores, down 0.91 percent to 17,733 workers; and professional and administrative, down 0.83 percent to 10,042.

On a year-over-year comparison, only transportation (train and engine) posted an increase. That category rose 7.75 percent.

Showing declines were maintenance of equipment and stores, down 16.7 percent; transportation (other than train and engine), down 9.32 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 5.95 percent; professional and administrative, down 5.21 percent; and executives, officials and staff assistants down 4.56 percent.

Class 1 Rail Employment Up in March

April 21, 2021

U.S. Class 1 railroads employed 115,003 people in mid-March, a gain of 0.82 percent from mid-February but down 10.06 percent compared to the same period in 2020.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board said four of six employment categories saw increases in March compared with February’s level.

They were maintenance of way and structures, up 1.46 percent to 28,356 workers; transportation (train and engine), up 1.33 percent to 46,404; transportation (other than train and engine), up 0.36 percent to 4,767; and executives, officials and staff assistance, up 0.14 percent to 7,276.

Posting losses were maintenance of equipment and stores, down 0.52 percent to 18,021 workers, and professional and administration, down 0.16 percent to 10,179.

On a year-over-year comparison, all categories had declines.

These included maintenance of equipment and stores, down 18.32 percent; transportation (train and engine), down 10.42 percent; transportation (train and engine), down 10.16 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 6.67 percent; professional and administrative, down 5.28 percent; and executives, officials and staff assistants, down 3.86 percent.

Class 1 Rail Employment Up Slightly in February

April 1, 2021

Employment at Class 1 railroads in the United Stated ticked upward slightly in mid February.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board said the carriers employed 114,068, an increase of 0.53 percent over mid January.

However, the February 2021 figure was down 10.63 percent compared with the same month in 2020.

Four of six employment categories saw gains in February compared with January’s level.

They were maintenance of way and structures, up 1.19 percent to 27,948 workers; transportation (train and engine), up 0.6 percent to 45,794; transportation (other than train and engine), up 0.53 percent to 4,750; and maintenance of equipment and stores, up 0.17 percent to 18,115.

Categories that lost workers on a month-over-month  comparison included executives, officials and staff assistants, down 0.37 percent to 7,266 employees, and professional and administrative, down 0.23 percent to 10,195.

On a year-over year comparison, all categories posted declines.

They were maintenance of equipment and stores, down 18.29 percent; transportation (train and engine), down 10.99 percent; transportation (other than train and engine), down 10.65 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 7.77 percent; professional and administrative, down 5.75 percent; and executives, officials and staff assistants, down 4.09 percent.

Class 1 Employment Up 2.44% in December

January 21, 2021

Employment at U.S. Class 1 railroads rose 2.44 percent last month when compared with November.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board said the railroads employed 117,770 people in mid-December. Although that was an increase over the previous month it was a 10.43 percent decline compared with the same period in 2019.

Posting gains in December over November were transportation (train and engine), which rose 5.67 percent to 49,069 workers; and maintenance of equipment and stores, which rose 2.09 percent to 18,623 workers.

Declines were posted by professionals and administrative, down 0.52 percent to 10,223 employees; maintenance of way and structures, down 0.51 percent to 27,720; transportation (other than train and engine), down 0.12 percent to 4,823; and executives, officials and staff assistants, down 0.05 percent to 7,312.

On a year-over-year comparison, all categories had declines.

Maintenance of equipment and stores was down 18.12 percent; transportation (other than train and engine), was down 10.6 percent; maintenance of way and structures, was down 9.94 percent; transportation (train and engine), was down 9.35 percent; professional and administrative, was down 5.44 percent; and executives, officials and staff, was down 4.07 percent.