News & Reviews News Wire Top 10 stories of 2023: No. 10 (tie) Class I railroads’ quality-of-life deals with unions

Top 10 stories of 2023: No. 10 (tie) Class I railroads’ quality-of-life deals with unions

By Bill Stephens | December 23, 2023

Agreements expand sick time and scheduled days off

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Two men standing by train watch as another train goes by
Union Pacific crew members from a westbound manifest freight inspect an eastbound intermodal train as it passes near Wamsutter, Wyo., on Sept. 1, 2022. David Lassen

Class I railroads operating in the U.S. reached a series of agreements with their labor unions this year that are designed to improve workers’ quality of life.

Chief among them: Paid sick time deals.

Railroaders’ lack of traditional paid sick time became a flashpoint toward the end of contract negotiations in the fall of 2022. When Congress imposed the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations and President Joseph Biden signed the measure into law in December, sick time changes were not included.

“We ensured workers are going to get a historic 24% wage increase over the next five years, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their healthcare,” Biden said. “And, look, I know this bill doesn’t have paid sick leave that these rail workers and, frankly, every worker in America deserves, but that fight isn’t over.”

The Class I railroads followed the Presidential Emergency Board’s recommendations that quality-of-life matters — including sick time and work scheduling — be negotiated with unions on a local basis.

In June, NS became the first railroad to sign paid sick-time deals with all 12 unions that represent the railroad’s craft employees. The final deal was with the SMART-TD division that represents yardmasters.

“Following national labor negotiations, we committed to address quality of life issues for our craft railroaders. With today’s agreement, we make good on that promise,” CEO Alan Shaw said in a statement. “I am proud of our team for working collaboratively with union leadership over the last four months to reach agreements that benefit all of our craft colleagues.”

The sick-time agreements expand the number of paid sick days and allow railroaders to use personal days as sick time. At Union Pacific, for example, SMART-TD members gained an additional five paid sick days annually. And beginning in 2024 they also will have the ability to convert up to three paid leave days for use as paid sick time.

An eastbound BNSF intermodal train passes a maintenance-of-way gang in Western Springs, Ill. Unions representing maintenance workers are among those that signed agreements including paid sick time during 2023. David Lassen

Broader changes included more lenient attendance policies. CSX, for example, now lets points for absences drop off an employee’s record on a rolling 12-month cycle. Previously, those points continued to accumulate. Unionized employees now earn five points of good attendance credits for each calendar year quarter worked without an absence. Points are no longer assessed for hospitalizations, emergency treatment, or scheduled medical appointments.

“The new policy will also be non-disciplinary and non-punitive, and CSX will no longer subject employees to formal investigations, hearings, or disciplinary suspensions,” a railroad spokesman said at the time. “Instead, employees who exceed certain point thresholds will receive timely notifications and encouragement to correct their attendance records. Leadership will also be empowered to exercise discretion in the handling of those with special needs and consider alternative approaches in appropriate circumstances.”

CSX CEO Joe Hinrichs has made improving relations with labor and railroaders a key part of his strategy to improve the railroad’s service. “CSX is committed to listening to our railroaders and working with their representatives to find solutions that improve their quality of life and experience as employees,” he said in a statement.

UP reached an agreement with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen that schedules locomotive engineers’ work. The railroad continues to implement an 11-days-on, four-days-off schedule for engineers.

“The 11-4 work/rest schedule will be life-altering for employees who are used to working on-call 24/7, 365 days a year,” said BLET National President Eddie Hall. “We applaud our BLET General Chairmen and Union Pacific’s management for this important step that we believe will improve our members’ quality of life. This significant change in scheduling not only will make life better for locomotive engineers and their families, it also should help Union Pacific retain and recruit employees.”

UP said the scheduling arrangement also will enable the railroad to better manage staffing levels, which supports more consistent and reliable service.

Previous News Wire coverage:

“CSX, two unions reach agreement providing for paid sick leave,” Feb. 7, 2023

“CSX becomes first railroad to reach sick time deal with conductors’ union,” April 3, 2023.

“Norfolk Southern, conductors reach deal on sick time, scheduled days off, extra weekend pay,” April 28, 2023.

“Union Pacific and BLET reach tentative agreement on engineer scheduling,” May 24, 2023.

“First step toward improving rail service is treating employees better, CSX CEO says,” May 30, 2023.

“Norfolk Southern becomes first Class I railroad to reach paid sick time deals with all 12 labor unions,” News Wire, June 5, 2023.

“Union Pacific now has sick time agreements with all 13 unions,” Aug. 4, 2023

Coming Sunday: Top 10 stories No. 8 and 9.

2 thoughts on “Top 10 stories of 2023: No. 10 (tie) Class I railroads’ quality-of-life deals with unions

  1. Nobody I know out here wanted paid sick days. Are they in the “good” column? Sure. Were they a “flashpoint”? Not in the least. The point in the contract everyone was a NO vote on was renaming yard jobs as road switchers, meaning instead of 8 hour jobs where you do your job and go home to live life are gone, and now they’re 12 hour do anything and everything jobs where you’ll never have a home life ever, and in doing so let the carrier combine yard and road extraboards, cutting about half of all extraboards. Ferguson sold us out for a photo op in the oval office right before the midterms and is completely out of touch with the people that actually work on the railroad.

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