WASHINGTON — A significant gulf between the two sides on pay and medical benefits defines proposals presented by rail labor unions and railroads as the Presidential Emergency Board addressing the contract dispute begins its work.
The board began a week of hearings on Sunday afternoon. The three-person board was appointed by President Joe Biden earlier this month [see “Biden names members of emergency board …,” Trains News Wire, July 18, 2022].
Unions are seeking a contract which would include a 31.2% wage increase, when compounded, over the five-year life of a new contract that would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020. Railroads want a deal with a 17% compounded increase over the same term, according to the United Rail Unions, part of the coalition representing labor groups in the bargaining. The railroads offer includes annual increases of 2% or 3%, except for a 6% increase in 2022, while the unions’ proposal includes increases of 6% in 2020 and 2021, 8% in 2022, and 4% in each of the final two years.
The unions are also seeking the status quo in employee healthcare costs — with a monthly cost of $228.89 — with increases in autism and hearing benefits. The railroads’ proposal would increase monthly costs to an estimated $321, with significant increases in deductibles, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums for individuals and families.
The union proposal also includes 15 days of paid sick leave and three new holidays— Veteran’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Juneteenth — while the railroads’ plan includes one additional paid day off “in a manner to be determined by each individual carrier and labor organization.”
The emergency board’s hearings are slated to continue through Thursday, July 28, with Friday reserved for meetings between the two sides and the board. The board will issue its recommendations on or before Aug. 15, which will trigger a second 30-day cooling off period.
Jeremy R. Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division, told members of his union in a Friday statement that unions “anticipate a fair and thorough series of hearings.” He said labor and the railroads will not provide updates once the hearings begin “out of mutual respect for the process.”
— Revised at 7:30 a.m. to include details of proposals from unions and railroads.