Arlington, VA – July 29, 2021 – The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) announced today that an arbitrator has issued a final and binding decision providing for the resumption of negotiations over train crew size and staffing with the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union – Transportation Division (SMART-TD), the union that represents conductors in the freight rail industry. Rejecting the union’s arguments, the arbitrator found that standard moratorium language in decades-old labor agreements does not bar negotiations over crew size on freight trains.

“This ruling allows the railroads and SMART-TD to move forward with negotiations over all aspects of train crew size and 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 looks forward to working collaboratively with SMART-TD to address these critical issues.”

In the current bargaining round, which began Nov. 1, 2019, the freight rail industry is seeking to use new safety and operational technologies to facilitate the redeployment of train conductors. With the implementation of Positive Train Control, a set of technologies designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents related to human error occur, the conductor can be safely redeployed from riding in the locomotive cab to a ground-based position. Bargaining over the railroads’ redeployment and staffing proposals had been suspended under an August 2020 court ruling until the issue could be arbitrated.  The arbitrator’s ruling now permits the negotiations to resume.

The July 28 ruling, which is the culmination of nearly 20 months of litigation and arbitration, rejected the union’s principal objections to bargaining over train crew staffing and agreed with three of the nation’s largest freight railroads that proposals served by the railroads in November 2019 are appropriate subjects of the mandatory negotiation process established by the federal Railway Labor Act.

For additional information about the railroads’ proposals in the current round of bargaining, including a discussion of issues relating to train crew size, please visit


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