ARLINGTON, VA. – Feb. 12, 2020 – The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) announced today that a federal court in Texas issued an order allowing freight railroads to immediately initiate negotiations over train crew staffing with the union that represents conductors. The court’s February 11th order confirms that the union’s objections to collective bargaining must be arbitrated and, in the meantime, negotiations over the railroads’ proposal to redeploy conductors shall proceed.
The NRLC’s largest members, including the major U.S. freight railroads, filed a lawsuit last October in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth against the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division (SMART-TD). The union claimed that decades-old labor agreements bar any negotiations over crew staffing on freight trains. The freight railroads countered that collective bargaining is the proper forum to discuss the issue and that bargaining should proceed while the union’s objections could be resolved in arbitration.
The federal court’s 22-page decision carefully analyzes the parties’ arguments and upholds the railroads’ position in all respects. In particular, the court found that the union’s refusal to bargain is a violation of federal law. The court ordered SMART-TD to “bargain in good faith with each of the Railroads” over train crew redeployment and staffing issues.
In the new bargaining round, which began November 1, 2019, the industry is seeking to leverage new safety and operational technologies to facilitate redeployment of train conductors. “The court ruling allows for serious discussions over all aspects of crew staffing,” said Brendan Branon, chairman of the NRLC and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, the bargaining representative for the major U.S. freight railroads. “The industry wants to work collaboratively with SMART-TD to shape a future, ground-based role of the conductor and this ruling brings the parties to the bargaining table to begin those discussions now.”