BARGAINING STATUS FAQ – NOVEMBER 2022

Updated Nov. 22, 2022

Go to news about the latest bargaining round 

 

Q:       Who are the parties to national bargaining?

A:         The Class I freight railroads are in the final stages of national bargaining with twelve unions that collectively represent all 115,000 employees in the bargaining round.

Q:        What is the status of national bargaining? 

A:        The railroads have reached tentative agreements or ratified agreements with all unions in national bargaining. Ratification votes on the tentative agreements reached following the PEB have been completed by each union, and the results are as follows:

Status (Number of Agreements)

  • Agreement ratified (9)
  • Not ratified / status quo maintained (4)

Status (By Union)

  • TCU – Ratified 
  • BRC – Ratified 
  • IBEW – Ratified 
  • ATDA – Ratified 
  • BMWED – Not ratified / status quo maintained until 12:01 a.m. ET on December 9 
  • SMART-M – Ratified 
  • NCFO – Ratified 
  • BRS – Not ratified / status quo maintained until 12:01 a.m. ET on December 9
  • IAM – Ratified 
  • IBB – Not ratified / status quo maintained until 12:01 a.m. ET on December 9  
  • BLET – Ratified 
  • SMART-TD – Not ratified / status quo maintained until 12:01 a.m. ET on December 9  
  • SMART-TD (Yardmasters) – Ratified 

Q:      What happens if agreements are not reached by the end of the cooling off period? 

A:       The railroads remain willing to enter agreements with all unions that are based on the framework recommended by the Biden-appointed PEB. If that does not happen by the end of the relevant cooling off period, then each side is permitted to engage in self-help (e.g., strikes, lockouts, etc.). Historically, however, Congress has intervened to prevent work stoppages. Should the unions fail to accept agreements based on the PEB recommendations in this round, Congress may impose them through legislation – as it has done in the past – to prevent service disruptions.     

Q:         What is in the new agreements? 

A:         All of the new agreements increase wages by 24 percent during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, with a 14.1 wage percent increase effective immediately. The agreements also include five $1,000 annual lump sum payments, adjustments to health care premiums, and health benefit enhancements, and an additional personal leave day for all employees. A portion of the wage increases and lump sum payments are retroactive, resulting in more than $11,000 on average in immediate payouts to employees. 

The wage increases in the new agreements are the most substantial in decades – with average rail worker wages reaching about $110,000 per year by the end of the agreement. When health care, retirement, and other benefits are considered, the value of rail employees’ total compensation package, which already ranks among the highest in the nation, would average about $160,000 per year. 

The agreements also include craft-specific rules for operating craft and maintenance of way employees. 

Q:      What are the adjustments to health care premiums?  

A:       Commencing in 2023, health care premiums will once again be 15 percent of the carriers’ total monthly payment rate – as they were years ago – meaning that the carriers will pay 85 percent of the health care costs incurred by the plan and employees will pay the remaining 15 percent. 

Starting in 2025, when the national agreement is amendable, employee contributions will be capped until new national agreements are reached. 

Q:        What are the work rules changes? 

A:          In addition to the additional personal leave day for all employees, the operating craft agreements include provisions addressing several scheduling and related matters. The agreement with the BMWED, which covers track maintenance employees, also adjusts travel and away from home expense reimbursement provisions. 

Q:       Why did the railroads reject proposals to add benefits on top of the framework recommended by the PEB?  

A:       The request for additional benefits made by the few unions that have not ratified tentative agreements is similar to a proposal which was carefully considered and rejected by President Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board (PEB).  It comes weeks after these same unions entered into tentative agreements that included the most generous wage package in almost 50 years of national rail negotiations. 

The health, safety, and wellbeing of rail employees is a top priority for all railroads, and any suggestion that rail workers cannot take time off when sick is easily disproven.  Rail employees can and do take time off for sickness and have comprehensive paid sickness benefits starting, depending upon craft, after as few as four days of absence and lasting up to 52 weeks. The structure of these benefits is a function of decades of bargaining where unions have repeatedly agreed that short-term absences would be unpaid in favor of higher compensation for days worked and more generous sickness benefits for longer absences. 

The PEB’s recommendations remain the framework for an agreement. Now is not the time to introduce new demands that rekindle the prospect of a railroad strike. The carriers have therefore advised the unions that the latest proposal will not be accepted and that they must accept agreements based on the PEB-recommended framework.  If they fail to do so, however, Congress may implement the PEB’s recommendations before the agreed-upon cooling off period ends, as it has in the past, to prevent service disruptions.   

 

Crew Size FAQs

Q:      What is the status of negotiations over crew size?  

A:        The carriers have proposed to redeploy conductors from the cab of the locomotive to ground-based positions in PTC-enabled territory. This is an important issue for both the railroads and the employees. For the railroads, redeploying conductors will allow the carriers to continue to operate safely but more efficiently while maintaining customer service levels. On the employee front, ground-based conductor positions are expected to be regular assignments with predictable schedules. This type of scheduling will significantly enhance employee quality of life by eliminating the need for many conductors in through-freight service to overnight away from home. 

The carriers invited SMART-TD to negotiate nationally over the crew size issue at the outset of the bargaining round, but this invitation was rejected. As a result, direct bargaining over crew size (which was delayed almost two years until SMART-TD legal and procedural objections could be resolved) has taken place on a carrier-level basis. The NCCC believes crew size must be addressed across the industry and views resolution of the carriers’ crew size and redeployment proposals as a matter of the highest priority. The national agreements were structured to allow local discussions regarding crew size to continue. 

Q:    What is the impact of the FRA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on crew size negotiations? 

A:      It remains our position that train crew size should be determined through collective bargaining – just as it has in the past. The regulatory proceeding recently initiated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is separate from and does not impact the collective bargaining process. We continue to believe that crew size rules in existing agreements should be modified to allow for redeployment of conductors to ground-based position in PTC-enabled territory, and we expect local negotiations with SMART-TD to continue. 

 

National Issue Fact Check FAQs

Q:      Do operating craft employees receive time off for things like annual medical exams? 

A:       Yes. Rail employees receive up to five weeks of vacation in addition to up to 14 paid holidays and/or paid leave days (all depending on craft and seniority). They also participate in a carrier-funded federal sickness benefit program, and many have access to other benefits under existing labor agreements. 

Operating craft employees also can “mark off” – or temporarily remove themselves from service – for any reason, as long as they maintain a reasonable level of overall availability under carrier attendance policies. 

The new tentative agreements with the operating craft unions also include provisions regarding time away from work for routine and preventive medical care and provide that absences related to hospitalizations and surgeries are not counted toward normal attendance handling. 

Q:       Are railroads having trouble hiring? 

A:        As has been widely reported in the media, employers across the nation have faced challenges attracting and retaining qualified employees. The railroads, however, are far outperforming the broader labor market. The carriers reported more than 42 applicants per hire during 2021 – well above the benchmark ranges of 3:1 to 25:1 that normally are considered to be sufficient by workforce planning experts. Preliminary numbers from 2022 remain strong, with a similar number of applicants and even more hires. 

Although the carriers’ overall recruiting data remains strong, they have been affected in certain local labor markets by some of the same forces that are impacting other employers. As a result, the railroads have ramped up their hiring efforts in those specific areas, including by offering the type of targeted incentives that are increasingly common in areas where the labor market is most challenging. The railroads currently are meeting or making progress toward their hiring goals. 

The new tentative agreements also increase compensation significantly, maintain platinum level healthcare benefits, and improve employee quality of life – factors that should further enhance the industry’s ongoing recruiting and retention efforts. 

Q:       Are claims that mid-career employees are “quitting in droves” accurate?  

A:        No, claims that employees are quitting in droves are not accurate. In the first part of 2022, each individual carrier’s voluntary attrition rate was between 2.0 percent and 3.7 percent. This is just a fraction of the 13.1% quit rate during the same time period reported in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ JOLTS survey for the transportation, warehousing, and utility sector. 

Moreover, among employees with more than five years of service, the carriers have voluntary attrition rates among employees that are a small fraction of the rates currently experienced on average by other employers. For employees with more than ten years of service, the carriers’ voluntary attrition rates are even lower – meaning that the retention rate for mid-career rail employees remains among the best of any industry. 

Q:       Do the carriers believe that capital investment and risk, rather than contributions by labor, are the only reasons for railroad profits? 

A:        The railroads value the significant contributions made by the employees who make the railroads run every day, and the performance of the railroads would not be possible without the efforts of our employees. Our presentation to the PEB repeatedly emphasized our firmly held view that employees are essential to the industry’s success and should receive compensation increases that appropriately reward their contributions. We are aware that questions have been raised about a sentence in the PEB report that, in attempting to summarize the railroads’ position regarding the role that profitability should play in determining the size of fixed wage increases, suggests that employees do not contribute to rail industry profits. This sentence does not accurately reflect the carriers’ views on the matter or the presentation that we made to the PEB. 

 

Presidential Emergency Board No. 250 FAQs

Q:       What is a PEB?

A:        The RLA provides that the President of the United States may appoint a PEB to investigate and make recommendations for settlement of any labor dispute that threatens to substantially interrupt interstate commerce. A PEB has 30 days to conduct hearings and issue its report and settlement recommendations. Work stoppages are prohibited during this time and for another 30 days following the issuance of the report.

Q:       Were the PEB’s recommendations final and binding?

A:        No. However, the new agreements that the carriers have reached with each union implement the PEB’s recommended terms. A copy of the PEB’s report can be found on the National Mediation Board’s website.

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