National bargaining between the freight railroads and three union coalitions representing the employees is now in its third year and is at a critical stage, with the parties in mediation and searching for common ground.
The railroads, represented by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, have welcomed the involvement of the National Mediation Board, an independent federal agency that assists labor negotiations in the railroad and airline industries.
Reaching agreements is not only in the interests of both sides, it is essential for the nation’s economy, which relies on freight railroads.
Negotiations are occurring as the industry faces profound challenges: declines in recent years in volumes and revenues, and transformational changes in energy markets. The challenges, coupled with the industry’s massive capital requirements, make management of all costs, including labor costs, fundamental for continued success and growth.
Health care remains a significant challenge. By virtually any measure, the railroad health care plan is dramatically out of step with other employer plans across the nation. Rail employees and their families receive far richer benefits and pay far less for them than the vast majority of American workers. At the same time, railroad employees are among the most highly compensated in the nation.
The railroads are seeking fair and voluntary settlements with the unions, proposing reasonable wage increases, incremental changes to work rules to enhance productivity and customer service, and modest changes to the health plan to bring it closer to the mainstream.
The railroads and unions negotiate under the Railway Labor Act, which includes safeguards to minimize service disruptions because of labor disputes. Under the law, collective bargaining agreements remain in force indefinitely until the parties agree to change them.
More than thirty railroads, including BNSF, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific, are participating in this bargaining round.