For more than nine decades, the freight railroads have conducted collective bargaining negotiations on a national, multi-employer basis. National bargaining has been remarkably successful in reaching contract settlements without crippling labor strikes. In fact, over the past 30 years, there have been only two days of service disruptions arising from national rail bargaining; the last one was in 1992. National bargaining has also resulted in an overall pay and benefits package for rail employees that is among the very best of all industrial jobs in the United States. As of 2018, rail transportation employees ranked above 94% of employees in other industries in average annual compensation ($133,000/yr) and the National Railroad Health Plan continues to be considered a Platinum-level plan under the Affordable Care Act regulations. Rail labor contracts also continue to maintain many outdated work rules and practices that have been unchanged for decades.
Because freight railroads are vital to the national economy and security – accounting for more intercity freight volume than any other mode of transportation – Congress has not been hesitant to intervene in bargaining disputes in order to ensure continuous service. However, most bargaining rounds are settled with voluntary agreements.
The most recent bargaining round began in early 2015 and concluded on September 26, 2018. More than 30 railroads and 12 major rail unions reached settlements through negotiations under the Railway Labor Act.