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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / CSX’s Foote calls for fundamental change in relationship with union workers

CSX’s Foote calls for fundamental change in relationship with union workers

By David Lassen | May 10, 2022

Post-pandemic hiring woes show a need to rethink the nature of rail jobs, CEO says

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Mann gesturing while speaking at podium
Mann gesturing while speaking at podium
CSX CEO Jim Foote makes a point during a Tuesday speech to the North American Rail Shippers conference. (Trains: David Lassen)

KANSAS CITY — The 40 or so union rail employees picketing outside the site of the National Rail Shippers Conference, unhappy over their lack of a new national contract, might have been surprised by the message delivered inside by CSX Transportation CEO Jim Foote.

They might have welcomed it, too, if not for the adversarial relationship that Foote himself says means employees don’t trust their managers.

Railroads, Foote said, need to rethink the nature of their jobs. They need to fix that adversarial relationship. And they need to actually negotiate.

“Lesson learned,” he said, having earlier related in detail the railroad’s long-running — and still ongoing — effort to reach the same level of 7,100 train and engine employees it had during the pandemic. (He now estimates it will happen in the third quarter of 2022.) “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.

People holding signs while standing on sidewalk
Drawn by the scheduled appearances of three Class I CEOs, railroad workers picket outside the North American Rail Shippers conference. (Trains: David Lassen)

“We need to fundamentally review and understand the jobs that we offer to our employees. 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% of people who work for me that are in the union.”

The adversarial relationship, he said, stems from the Railway Labor Act and the Federal Employers Liability Act.

And he said “developing better working relationships with our union leadership and our employees” is the railroad’s most important goal.

“That is the biggest transformative change that CSX can make, and that is the biggest transformative change that the industry can make: Finally, finally, finally building a better rapport with our employees and having a better working relationship with them.”

Later, he was asked if CSX might withdraw from the industry-wide labor negotiations, which are in their third year.

“I think that entire structure — not necessarily the multi-employer bargaining process per se, but I think the entire process needs to be looked at,” he said. “You can’t roll the dice trying to figure out who the administration’s going to be any year you’re going to have a national labor contract, so you can get the appropriate presidential emergency board, and you can write the appropriate people in Congress to get the labor agreement you want.

“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. 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.”

31 thoughts on “CSX’s Foote calls for fundamental change in relationship with union workers

  1. Actually, he’s wrong about people working weekends and nights, they will, if you pay them extra, since those are outside the “normal” work day…it’s that simple. Provide incentives with percentage increases for working on those days/times(and not a paltry 5 or 10% either). Night differential should be at least 15% – 20%, Saturdays 20 – 30% and Sunday’s should be 40 – 50%. I really don’t care what all these people that are refusing to work say, if you would tell them they could work 8 or 10 hours on every Sunday(fix the scheduling too) and make 50% more than the base pay, a lot would jump at the chance.

    1. I agree Gerald. When I worked in the track dept. at NS, our work week consisted of 4 10-hour days, Monday thru Thursday. Anything over 10 hours a day and weekends was overtime. Working holidays paid overtime and a half and never had any problems with employees not willing to work it. Sometimes so much OT was offered that it was actually turned down by some, just to have time away from work. If RR management could work out something similar like you suggest with the T&E men/women, employment and morale would go through the roof.

    2. GERALD – Give the railroads and labor five years to work together to come up with a plan to schedule crews and shifts as if rail labor consisted of human beings. That’s because the workers who tolerated being treated like galley slaves have retired or passed on. Human beings are the only remaining labor pool to draw from.

      Reread the superb article in a recent TRAINS MAGAZINE edition projecting a “future history” of a BNSF T&E crew in SoCal in the Year 2040. If we continue to treat rail labor like we do now, the article won’t matter, the railroads won’t have any crews in 2040, the men and women will all have real jobs.

    3. I think it’s not so much about people not wanting to work weekends and nights, although there are few out here like that. It’s that you, especially on extra boards, are subject to work every weekend, every night. (Working unassigned pool or extra boards, it’s easier to get into a night slot then to get out of one)
      About 20 years ago, we had a trial period of rest days on our extra boards. Work 7 days, get 3 off. If you worked into your first rest day, the 72 hour period began when you tied up and was extended. Everyone, including some who were at first apprehensive, loved it. You knew when you were going to have time off and could make plans. Eventually, the unassigned pools were also supposed to get rest days if the trial worked out.
      The railroad ended the trial period because they paid out guarantee at smaller terminals.
      For me, I think going back to rest days, work 6 with 2 off or work 7 with 3 off would help a lot. You would still have to work nights and some weekends. But the rotation would give some weekends, or parts thereof, off.
      There’s things that could be done, but it would increase the need for people, which means increased costs for benefits and the hedge funds want expenses cut to the bone and beyond. Better to crack the whip through draconian attendence policies.
      Now, back to the oars.

      1. I think most rails want to achieve two things, 1) assigned, scheduled days off so that folks can plan ahead things that can be worked around the railroad’s schedule and 2) the ability to lay off a reasonable number of days to do things that cannot be done on the railroad’s schedule. Examples of the former are medical appointments, errands, mow the grass, etc. Examples of the latter are graduations, weddings, funerals and anything else that the employee simply cannot control.

        As you said, both of these require employing more employees to cover when others are off. The railroads lament increased costs, esp benefits, and seek the opposite….reduce numbers of employees so that the employees you do have work more hours and more days.

  2. Sounds like a man that understands the problem. Now can the all the people that are involved in the problem, come together and fix the problem.

    1. Brian — It would help if we knew more about the RLA and FELA requirements that Mr. Foote claims contribute to the adversarial relationship between RRs and Rail Labor. TRAINS MAGAZINE has not, to my knowledge, covered this issue.

      1. RLA, the Railway Labor Act, enables union shop contracts. In a union shop, everyone is a member, or at least a dues objector (Pays dues only for maintaing the union contract.), as a condition of employment. It gives some strength, but not as much as it once had, to labor. It also requires them to negotiate work rules. If they could get rid of, or at least amend the RLA, there’s a good chance the unions could be broken. Then giving CSX, and other class ones, the right to impose wages, benefits, and working conditions (think one person crews, among other things.) at their leisure.
        FELA, the Federal Employer’s Liability Act, is what railroaders have instead of worker’s compensation when injured. If injured, an employee has to sue the railroad for compensation, unless they come to a settlement before hand. An employee has to show where and why the railroad was at fault. Court settlements are based on a percentage of liability. The more the railroad is at fault, the more they have to pay. It means an adversarial fight. A career ending injury can cost the railroads a lot of money. More than if they were under the worker’s comp system.

        1. “THEY (meaning not the company) need to fix that adversarial relationship. And they need to actually negotiate.” Overall, this sounds to me like an attempt to get rid of the Railway Labor Act, a far better document than the weak National Labor Relations Act and not subject to state Right-to-Work laws. Next, they’ll go after Railroad Retirement, also far better than Social Security. When a CEO says “we just want to work with you”, run far and run fast..

  3. It’s not the: “negotiat(ing)… an agreement that’s beneficial to your company, and beneficial to your employees” that’s the problem. It’s what happens after the negotiations are over. The carriers blatantly refuse to abide by the terms of the agreements. When I worked for Norfolk Southern my paycheck was short every single pay period! Usually it was an “arbitrary” like meal allowances or terminal delay time. These things had been negotiated into the labor agreement and mutually agreed upon. Yet the carriers simply ignored the agreements and did as they pleased. It would take months of needless work by the unions to get these issues resolved. Eventually most of them would, [not all…NS still owes me money from way back in the late 1990’s] but it was a constant battle to get the things that were included in the labor agreement. Very frustrating!

    1. I worked in the MofW for 32 years at NS, retiring in 2013, and always thought you guys in the trains had it better than us. I’ve since learned that that was far from the truth.

  4. I worked for 42 years as an Engineer and a local chairman for Union Pacific, The unions proposed windows for pool freight to guarantee at home time. I recall a time claim conference with a labor relations officer, after he noted some claims were over a year old my response was exactly that’s the problem,. I’ve been retired 9 years my last time claim dispute was settled in my favor just over a year ago, labor agreements are only good if they are honored and settled in good faith,. Railroads need only to be open to change negotiate in good faith, There are many solutions but all require more manpower and Labor costs.

  5. Why are you literally begging for crews? Why doesn’t anyone want to work for you? Why doesn’t anyone at work – especially your managers – trust you? Seriously?? Stop treating your managers like dirt; stop treating your Union employees like dirt. I had 18 years at CSX as a Union craft employee and Community Affairs and Safety Manager and I don’t know even one employee who has a good word to say about the company, and that’s sad. The Buck has to stop somewhere; fix the horrible culture!

  6. This would be great if he can walk the talk! Count me as skeptical though for two reasons. 1. His blaming a government act. The act came about because of the horrible way management treated workers. 2. CSX offer to pay an advance on potential raises which would have to be paid back as opposed to just raising wages now! This when they have not suspended stock buy backs. And this from a stockholder

  7. Foote, Boychuk, etal in JAX have no clue what goes on outside their offices. They proved that at the STB meeting when they said, “This is the first I’m hearing of late switches and missed deliveries.” Yet we know that it happens everyday.

    When low and middle management know that any bad information they send out will likely get them fired, they tell lies.
    “Everything is on time. No there are not ten trains tied down between here and Waycross. All the employees are happy and don’t want any time off.”

    Garbage in. Garbage out. Jacksonville needs to talk to the people who make it work, the blue collar employees, and get a clue.

  8. The pendulum swings. While I don’t necessarily agree to all unions demands, the railroads have shot themselves in the arse. Shortsightedness is all the rage(not just RRs). Just in time is going to become too late very soon.

  9. IT guy here. Everything we do is aimed at cutting costs: precision scheduling, work rules, days off, and schedule an equipment and inspections. The change has to come from the top. The change has to come from corporate leadership. Maybe this is happening but there’s so much bad blood. CEOs have to take the first step. Not labor.

    3 months ahead fixed schedules and guaranteed days off. Or extra pay for overtime.

    Simple as that.

  10. What I hear here is a culture of might makes right and one that has years of distrust and bad relations. Whether the distrust can be overcome, I have my doubts. As previously mentioned, negotiations have made compensation agreements and the middle managers play games with them. Upper management gets mixed messages and don’t trust anyone. I chose NOT to work as an Electrical Engineer for the PRR back in ’61 as I saw the way assistant supervisors were treated and the climate was not as adversarial as it is today. Foote has the right idea. I just hope the soil is not too contaminated for it to flourish. He has a whole company of and supervisors etc that think you contro; the lions and tigers with the whip and fear and I suspect they will be hard to convert. But I can hope.

  11. Like I wrote in my exit interview just over a year ago, it’s an affront to T&E employees everytime you mention the benefits of “scheduled” railroading yet only a very few “scheduled” trains had assigned crews. After 17 years, why in the hell would I want to spend another 20 working first in first out on a damn pool with little prospects of ever getting any control over my work schedule?

    1. In addition to being able to bid on a scheduled train, you should be given the option to bid on a train being called off the pool at your home terminal. Before they call a train, they could send out a text message and you reply if you want to bid on that run based on your seniority. If no one bids on the job within ten minutes, the first out gets called. Your seniority should matter for something.

  12. Seems like the single biggest issue of contention between carriers and unions is one man trains. The carriers swear they cannot continue to exist, to stay in business, to compete with trucks, without going to one man trains.

    Whether you consider them one in the same or not, can you get unions or the employees to agree to one man trains?

    Seems like squaring this one specific issue will greatly or completely inform the ability of the carriers to negotiate and compromise an agreement that works for all with the unions/employees.

  13. Is 106 miles a day rule for T&E crews still in place or is the only measure an hourly on-duty the measure?

    1. When I left Norfolk Southern 20+ years ago, the basic day for freight train crews was 130 miles.

  14. Walk the talk mr Foote. Perhaps then workers will follow you. Those not yet furloughed, terminated or simply discouraged, that is.

  15. What a funny read!!! If Mr. Foote wants better relationships with his working men then perhaps he should start by recalling all the trainmasters (small “T” intended) hiding with radar speed guns in bushes near their tracks. We are watching every move you make and will punish you for taking too long or working too fast. Unfortunately crap rolls downhill and it always ends with those riding in the engines.

  16. Take note Mr. Foote: Alan Shaw, NS’s new CEO got started on the right foot. He donned a safety vest and got out IN THE FIELD, speaking with employees at the WORK level. A dispatcher friend of mind says that Shaw spent 18 minutes with him discussing his job duties and satisfaction with them. How’s that for starting out on the right foot, Mr. Foote!

  17. This is not unique to railroading. This is throughout U.S. business. Too many businesses treat their employees as a necessary evil. With customers regarded only slightly better. Employee distrust of “management” is rife. The question is whether there can be healing.

    1. Amen brother, look at some of the root causes. Management is owned by hedge funds and index funds. They have to be willing to say no to only short term thinking and re focus on all their stake holders including but not limited to: employees at all levels; communities -they do not operate separate from where they are; customers both large and small; and other railroads-they are not independent of the whole system. Responding only to the speculators who hold (usually temporarily) their stock will not create a future.

  18. Does anyone care to weigh in on how the specter of autonomous and/or platooning semis going national and unrestricted by governmental regulatory agencies plays into all this? And how about the specter of the advances made by the techies at Alstom and Siemens whose goal seems to be reaching GoA (grade of automation) Level 4 where the only folks on the passenger trains are the passengers? Look, I was a contract employee, 35 years service as a tower op and train dispatcher at Metra and one of its predecessor railroads. I too worry about the generations-old deplorable state of employee-management relations, although I have to say where I was it was better than a lot other places.

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