ARLINGTON, VA (Nov. 1, 2019) – The National Railway Labor Conference announced today that its members, including the nation’s largest freight railroads, are launching a new bargaining round with 12 labor unions representing nearly 125,000 unionized rail employees.

In delivering bargaining notices to the industry’s labor unions, the railroads stressed that reaching new, modernized labor agreements can ensure that employees remain one of the nation’s best compensated workforces. New agreements will also allow railroads to leverage transformational technologies – including developments in automation and safety – to help manage an uncertain economy and long-term structural changes in rail traffic.

“This is not the first time in the industry’s long history that railroads and our employees have faced tough challenges,” said Brendan Branon, chairman of the National Railway Labor Conference and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), the representative for freight railroads in national bargaining.

“But through thoughtful leadership and a willingness to meet our challenges head on, together we can ensure railroads continue to fuel the American economy. We look forward to a constructive bargaining round and reaching agreements to secure a successful future for the industry,” he said.

Some of those pressing challenges include intense competition across all sectors of freight transportation, a steady decline in coal shipments, global trade uncertainty, the continued shift towards a services-oriented economy, customer demands for faster and more reliable service and renewed threats of increased regulation.

In their bargaining proposals, the railroads seek to better align compensation to market conditions and pay levels of comparable industries. On health care, the proposals include changes to achieve mainstream standards in cost-sharing and plan design that will produce improved health outcomes for plan participants. The railroads also seek reforms to work rules that would enhance customer service and employee utilization, including changes in train crew staffing.

The freight railroads and unions negotiate under the Railway Labor Act, which is designed to  minimize service disruptions because of labor disputes. Under the law, collective bargaining agreements remain in force indefinitely. Without a contract expiration date, negotiators do not work against a fixed deadline. Instead, they proceed through various steps, including compulsory mediation, that facilitate negotiated settlements.

The bargaining notices serve to inform the other party of proposed changes to collective bargaining agreements. The previous bargaining round began in 2014 and was concluded in 2018.

The NCCC represents more than 30 railroads in national bargaining with rail unions. The NCCC railroads include BNSF Railway Company, CSX Corporation, Kansas City Southern Railway Company, Norfolk Southern Corporation, Union Pacific Railroad and the U.S. railroads owned directly or indirectly by Canadian National Railway Company.


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