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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / SMART-TD union asks Congress to let negotiations play out as strike deadline looms (updated)

SMART-TD union asks Congress to let negotiations play out as strike deadline looms (updated)

By Bill Stephens | September 13, 2022

Congress typically intervenes to halt railroad strikes, but union says contract recommendations would be rejected by rank and file

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Man climbing on front steps of orange locomotive
Man climbing on front steps of orange locomotive
A BNSF crew member reboards his locomotive after providing protection at a pedestrian crossing during a maintenance-of-way project in Hinsdale, Ill., on Nov. 6, 2021. (Trains: David Lassen)

WASHINGTON – Congress should let rail labor contract negotiations play out until a deal acceptable to the rank and file is reached, the SMART-TD union told congressional leaders today.

If a contract based solely on the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board were presented to union members, it would fail by more than a 3-to-1 margin, SMART-TD Legislative Director Greg Hynes wrote in a letter to Congress.

Meanwhile, the head of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said in an interview that BNSF Railway and Union Pacific are resisting efforts to change work rules — a charge BNSF flatly rejected.

The union’s letter comes amid a flurry of letters to congressional leaders from rail shippers and business officials, all of whom want Congress to prevent a strike or lockout from occurring as early as 12:01 a.m. on Friday.

The key issue, Hynes wrote, is not pay but working conditions.

“A voluntary agreement between the two parties is the best option for our members and this nation,” Hynes wrote. “That being said, the carriers are still refusing to provide our members with minimal provisions to improve their overall quality of life, and to recognize their contributions to the industry and to the American economy.”

The SMART-TD, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen have yet to reach a tentative agreement with the Class I railroads. Nine other labor groups representing rail workers have reached tentative deals on contracts based on the recommendations issued by the Presidential Emergency Board last week, including a 24% compounded wage increase.

But the unions representing locomotive engineers and conductors want the railroads to make concessions on work conditions, including attendance policies that rail labor views as draconian. The Presidential Emergency Board recommended that work rules issues be negotiated at the local level between railroads and the unions.

“Through egregious and excessive absenteeism policies, the railroads have taken away our members’ ability to be a worthy parent and dependable spouse; and they have eliminated any realistic means for an employee to receive medical services or care for a sick child without being assessed discipline or termination,” Hynes wrote.

The railroads disagree. The Presidential Emergency Board’s wage increase recommendation, the Association of American Railroads said today, accounts for the unions’ request for paid time off. It also recommends an additional personal day, the AAR notes.

The railroads also say they provide multiple ways for crews to take time off and care for their families, including paid vacation, a sick leave structure funded by railroads, and supplemental sick leave policies through the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. Crews also can mark off for any reason “if they maintain a reasonable level of overall availability under carrier attendance policies,” the AAR says.

The union’s letter to Congress comes as the potential for a railroad strike or lockout has gained the attention of national media, the White House, and Congress.

A strike would shut down virtually all freight service in the U.S. and affect most Amtrak service and several commuter agencies.

Head of BLET says BNSF, UP are slowing negotiations

In an interview with CNBC, BLET President Dennis Pierce singled out BNSF and Union Pacific as the primary source of the working-conditions issues, saying those railroads had adopted attendance policies “which have treated workers so poorly. … Union Pacific and BNSF attendance policies are assessing (penalty) points to our members when they just want to take time off for their regular medical appointments.”

BNSF called Pierce’s contention “categorically false,” saying crew members generally get three to five weeks of paid vacation and 10 to 14 paid holidays or personal leave days, and received a 25% increase in personal leave days. UP told CNBC that it “understands our employees want a different way and process … to request and receive time off for things like medical appointments. We are in active discussions with the unions to try to address these concerns.”

— Updated at 6:55 p.m. CDT with information from Pierce interview. Trains Senior Editor David Lassen contributed to this report.

23 thoughts on “SMART-TD union asks Congress to let negotiations play out as strike deadline looms (updated)

  1. I will probably get roasted for this! In one of these articles some one mentioned that the railroad life has always been one of rough hours and work conditions. Now the people that excepted these positions on the railroads are complaining about what they signed up for. It would appear that they have better benefits than most other people. It seems as though neither side will win any thing the longer this plays out

    1. Yes mr Everett we did accept it up until they took all of our ability to take a day off without getting fired for it.

  2. Let’s put it this way. The railroads will tell everyone they give ample time off for sick leave but yet if you take sick leave it counts against your points and furthermore against hours worked in a month which by the way of you don’t have enough hours based on your working peers you will be assessed discipline and get fired. Plus they tell the uninformed that we have personal leave days, which we do, but there’s a catch- let’s use a terminal in the Central Valley of California as an example. This terminal has roughly 200 trainmen and enginemen and the company has 4 available spots for scheduled vacation on any given day per craft which are determined at the end of each year furthermore it allows only 2 allocated days for any other personal reasons for the whole terminal which can be used by the rest of the 200 personal that are left. So 196 guys are left that have no assigned days off to otherwise find a way to have a day off after working on your rest for weeks on end and you get why we’re pissed? Those 196 guys are now left with one choice, using your attendance points just to get a day off and each day is assessed at least 2 points, weekends 3 or 4 depending on the day and holidays 7 out of 30 total. You can gain points back by working 14 days straight surely but you only get 2 in 2 weeks work. So now if you work less that 2 weeks without taking any days off you just keep losing points until your out and game over, you get to run out twice and your fired, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, gone. Yet the railroads will tell the media they’re being so fair and whatnot all the while we get worked to death, or quit( which is the next hurdle they will have to deal with). So let’s hear it ladies and gentlemen are we as trainmen being unreasonable? I don’t think so.

    1. Retired MW but I have many friends in the Transportation dept. that can and will back up your claims. Solidarity to you my Brother!!

  3. To be more precise if we took the same days off an average working class person has we would be fired in something like 4 months, terminated. Hours worked have no bearing on their policies either, you could work as many hours as your body can take but if you take the days off like I explained above you’re a part time employee and you don’t protect your job in the eyes of the railroad and your are once again fired, gone, bye bye……………..

  4. From a pure leverage perspective, labor has the upper hand here. When a test vote shows 3 to 1 against, the railroads have some work to do. Let’s see if Jim Foote makes anymore “treat our crews better” speeches.

  5. So, according to Mr. Buffet, outside of my vacation time, I should only have what averages out to be 1 day off a month in his eyes through PL days and that is sufficient? Eric is correct. Those of you who keep using this “you know what you signed up for” crap, have no idea what you are talking about because you are not having to deal with it. I just looked at a major shortline company’s job postings and they have vacancies for train crews on many of their shortlines! So if shortlines are better to work for, why are they having trouble getting people?

    1. Outside of vacation time, almost all other jobs DO NOT offer any PL time off, it’s vacation and sick leave only. IF you call out sick and do not schedule it, it counts against you…consider this, I know a place that can fire you for calling out sick only 3 times within 6 months…that’s worse than what you guys get, but if you schedule that sick time off ahead of time, it doesn’t count against you(this is a Federal government agency by the way).

      As for short lines having a bunch of openings, it’s because Millenials and Gen Z are to lazy to do anything resembling manual labor.

    1. It means working on your scheduled days off. So when I was with Amtrak, my rest days were Tuesday, Wednesday. If I was asked to work one or both of those days, that is working on my rest.

  6. Let me cut to the heart of the matter. Let’s say for sake of argument, that the entire T+E brigade of a frieght railroad just loves their jobs and, for the sake of rhetoric, would never complain about schedules, safety, working conditions, or salary and benefits. Hypothetically, let’s just say that the supervisor of a crew base tells a crew to take the day off with the holiday coming, but the crew begs to take a night shift in a blizzard (after ten hours off), then spend Christmas in a seedy motel three hundred miles from home.

    Then let’s continue the scenario by postulating this crew retires, so needs to be replaced by new hires. The railroad posts the jobs, visits colleges and trade schools and military bases on a recruiting mission. Only to find no takers. “Work on your railroad? You gotta be kidding! No way would a sane person take that job for double the dollars.”

    Then what does the railroad do?

    1. Apparently all those new kids coming into the workforce seem to forget that money actually does solve all your problems…so yes, doing what you describe above wouldn’t be a problem if you love your job.

      1. So try working under those conditions for a few years, Gerald. I ‘spect you’ll have a totally different viewpoint by then.

      2. Good sir, money doesn’t solve everything. What good is money if you never have the opportunity to enjoy it? This includes spending time with family and friends. I’m guessing you’ve only worked white-collar jobs in your life. Have you spent time working hard for a living in the past decade or so? If not, it might be eye opening.

        1. Money can solve all problems if you have enough of it. I’d literally have zero problems being away from home for extended periods of time and not being able to see family and friends(don’t see friends often anyways, so no difference than now as I’m a loner, don’t actually need family and friends to be happy). No, I haven’t worked only white collar jobs, but then I look for ways to do all of my assigned tasks as efficiently and quickly as possible, so that might be part of it, getting 8 hours of work finished in 2 is pretty satisfying(that can be done with any type of job, if you analyze the work, look at possible solutions and try them). Also, what do you think retirement is for…to spend the money you earned while working, just like the few vacations I take(like 5 in the last 15 years).

    2. It’ll do exactly what I predict it’ll have to do eventually just like any company in a free market society, change their ways to attract newcomers, but I’m also human and it is the railroad so I might be wrong . The railroad also seems to think that the whole world wants to work for them and still has as has always a mentality that we need them more than they need us. They are having man power problems now serious ones that are just getting under way and yet they will not bend. You guys will all hear the Ol spin doctors jibberish in short order. There’s something to their problem when people aren’t lining up around the block for $ 15000 signing bonuses. We shall see.

  7. I’ve had those personal days we should be allowed to use without restrictions denied due to “manpower” shortages in a terminal with furloughed employees.

  8. Keep in mind that at least 2 unions have voted against the ratification of their agreements at present. When the news reports that the PEB recommendations were accepted, that means by Union leadership and then put to a vote of the members. They are still voting as I write this. But PSR has killed a good job. They are all shorthanded and there is no end in sight for that under current leadership. Folks in the boardroom have no clue. In the past they had a slight clue.

  9. I remember a few years back a former railroad employee wrote of his experiences working for railroads. His last day as a party joke two of his fellow workers picked him up and physically threw him off the property(all in good fun).
    That nite the crew caller called him for a run the next morning(seriously). When informed he had submitted his resignation and was no longer an employee, the crew caller then stated that if he failed to report for his run, a notation would be made and he would be subject to TERMINATION.
    The crew caller also noted the resignation on the computer, and said it didn’t apply.
    You wonder why people who love their jobs quit?

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