ARLINGTON, VA – Aug. 30, 2020 – The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) announced today that a federal appeals court has vacated an injunction that required SMART-TD, the union representing conductors across the freight rail industry, to bargain with major U.S. freight railroads over train crew staffing and redeployment. The court agreed with the railroads, however, that the union’s objections to bargaining must be arbitrated, providing a clear path forward in the industry’s efforts to negotiate over crew size.

In the current bargaining round, which began Nov. 1, 2019, the freight rail industry is seeking to leverage new safety and operational technologies to facilitate 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 ongoing for the last several months under the now-vacated injunction, and the court’s ruling allows for SMART-TD to suspend those negotiations.

The union has claimed that decades-old labor agreements prohibit mandatory negotiations on this topic. The court’s ruling confirms that the union’s objections to bargaining are subject to arbitration, a process that the railroads initiated some months ago but SMART-TD has been resisting. Consistent with the ruling, the previously initiated arbitration process must now move forward.

While the railroads are disappointed in the appeals court’s reversal of the prior injunction, they are optimistic arbitration decisions should be issued by early 2021. The railroads expect these decisions will confirm that SMART-TD is required to negotiate over this important aspect of modernizing freight rail operations and look forward to engaging with SMART-TD in further negotiations over crew size. The railroads believe a prompt resolution of the arbitrations and settlement of the negotiations will best position the industry to modernize its operations and better compete for freight traffic.

Crew size in the railroad industry is a matter of collective bargaining and a subject the railroads and SMART-TD and its predecessor unions have historically resolved through negotiations. These negotiations have typically occurred when technological and operational changes allow for the consideration of new and safe, streamlined procedures and staffing models for the operation of trains. In addition to the crew staffing and redeployment proposals, the railroads and the 12 major rail labor unions that represent approximately 125,000 rail employees are presently engaged in a round of national collective bargaining addressing wages, benefits and many other work rules.

To learn more about the railroads’ proposals and the ongoing bargaining round, click here.


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