Posts Tagged ‘Railway Labor Act’

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

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.

Union Says Carriers Declare Impasse During Crew Size Negotiations in Bid to Seek Mediation

March 18, 2022

A railroad labor union has told its members that two Class 1 railroads have declared an impasse in collective bargaining over crew size.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division said BNSF and Norfolk Southern invoked Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act as a step to receive federal mediation as required by the Act.

SMART-TD said it intends to continue to demonstrate the significant problems with what the carriers are planning to do and how they will use technology to redeploy conductors into ground-based positions.

Mediation Seen as Next Step in Contract Talks

January 22, 2022

Mediation is being seen as the next step in contract talks between railroad labor unions and the carriers that employ them, Railway Age columnist Frank N. Wilner wrote on the trade magazine’s website.

The Coordinated Bargaining Coalition, which represents most railroad labor unions, has declared that negotiations have reached an impasse.

Wilner wrote that the National Mediation Board is likely to appoint a senior mediator who will seek to guide the parties to a voluntary settlement.

The federal Railway Labor Act mandates that railroad labor contracts never expire. Typically, they are renegotiated every five years with the current round of talks having begun in 2020.

The RLA also sets out a series of steps that labor and management must meet before either may initiate a strike or lockout.

These steps involve cooling off periods lasting up to 90 days before either side can take self-help action.

Labor’s declaration of an impasse does not mean much because only the NMB has the authority to declare an impasse, which could then lead to the creation by President Joseph Biden of a presidential emergency board to make non-binding recommendations for a settlement.

Wilner wrote that the NMB usually is reluctant to declare an impasse during an election year. Members of Congress dislike having to address controversial issues that might force them to vote on a back-to-work order and/or third-party implementation of revised contract terms.

The Coordinated Bargaining Coalition represents 105,000 workers or nearly 90 percent of unionized railroad workers.

The other unionized workers are members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees and the Mechanical Division of SMART. Since July 2021 those unions have been engaged in mediation with carriers under the guidance of the NMB.

Representing carriers is the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, an arm of the National Railway Labor Conference.

NCCC represents most Class 1 carriers and several smaller railroads. However, some bargaining over some components of labor contracts is conducted directly between labor and individual carriers.

CSX, for example, participates in the national talks for wages, benefits and work rules for all non-operating crafts but limits its participation in talks for benefits for operating crafts.

Smaller railroads limit their participation in national contract negotiations to benefits issues.

Canadian Pacific is not an NCCC member and bargains separately with its unionized workers. Canadian National also bargains separately on wages for workers in U.S. train and engine service.

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Unions Press Biden on Mediation Board Appointments

January 28, 2021

Labor unions in the railroad and aviation industries are seeking to prod President Joseph Biden on appointments to the National Mediation Board.

The 19 unions are seeking to have Deirdre Hamilton appointed to the Board and for sitting member Linda Puchala’s term to be extended.

The Board was created by the Railway Labor Act and the letter from the unions noted it “plays an essential role” in labor-management relations. 

“These workers are best served when the NMB is reliably staffed with public servants who understand the importance of collective bargaining and who, when disputes arise, will seek fair and timely solutions,” the letter said.

Hamilton for the past six years has been the staff attorney to the airline division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

She has represented workers before federal courts and with the NMB on a wide range of legal issues for the past 20 years.

Puchala has served as an NMB board member since 2009. Before that she was a mediator, senior mediator and the associate director of alternative dispute resolution services over a 10-year career at the NMB.

Union Sues Mediation Board on Arbitration of Crew Size

February 1, 2020

The National Mediation Board has appointed an arbitrator to handle a case involving crew size, which has prompted a railroad labor union to sue the Board.

The  SMART Transportation Division and nearly two dozen General Committees filed the suit after the mediation board voted 2 to 1 in favor of appointing an arbitrator.

“The National Mediation Board has unlawfully and without authority initiated an arbitration process involving the SMART-TD and multiple rail carriers, contrary to the provisions of the Railway Labor Act,” the lawsuit states.

The Mediation Board had acted after the National Railway Labor Conference requested the board to forcibly appoint a representative of SMART to negotiate on the union’s behalf over crew sizes during talks for a new contract that are in the process of getting underway.

The NRLC represents a coalition of Class 1 railroads.

SMART had earlier taken the position that crew size should be negotiated at the local level between individual railroads and local committees.

The carriers have also filed a lawsuit against SMART in an effort to force it to negotiate crew size at the national level.

The Class 1 carriers have been open about their desire to operate many trains with one-person crews.

The two Mediation Board members who sided with the carriers, Kyle Fortson and Gerald Fauth, were appointed by President Donald Trump.

The dissenting member was Chairwoman Linda Puchala who said the Board’s action circumvented decades of Railway Labor Act precedent in how these disputes are handled.

A spokesperson for the Labor Conference supported the Board’s decision.

“We support the National Mediation Board’s designation of a SMART-TD representative and agree with the Board’s well-considered decision that such designation is required under the Railway Labor Act,” the spokesperson said.

He added that the carriers believe collective bargaining is the proper forum to discuss train crew staffing and joint arbitration sought by the railroads is the appropriate method for resolving the parties’ dispute over the interpretation of common contract language.

The first round of negotiations will open on Feb. 26 and 27 in Washington.

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.