Updated Dec. 5, 2022
Q: What is the status of national bargaining?
A: The railroads have concluded agreements with all twelve unions in national handling, representing a total of more than 100,000 employees. Eight unions ratified those agreements. The remaining four unions are now covered by agreements that became effective pursuant to H. J. Res. 100, which was passed by Congress on December 1, 2022 and signed into law by President Biden on December 2, 2022.
Click here to see the NCCC’s statement regarding the conclusion of the bargaining round.
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 and reflected in the tentative agreements?
A: The request for additional benefits made by the few unions that did not ratify tentative agreements was similar to a proposal which was carefully considered and rejected by President Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). It came 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.
Although these provisions were not included in the final agreements resulting from the 2022 round, it is unquestionable that the parties should continue discussions regarding these issues. While the bargaining round has concluded, conversations about bringing greater predictability and work-life balance for railroaders will continue – including in local discussions with the operating crafts expressly contemplated by the parties’ agreements.
Q: What happens next?
A: The railroads look forward to using the new agreements as a springboard for further collaboration with our unions regarding opportunities to enhance rail careers, promote safety, support the environmentally friendly and efficient transport of freight, and strengthen our role as the backbone of the U.S. economy.
Crew Size FAQs
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 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 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.