June 9, 2023 – Since the national bargaining round concluded in December 2022, each of the nation’s largest Class I railroads has been working closely with their local unions to move the ball forward on key issues that are important to rail employees and their families such as paid sick leave and scheduling flexibility. While work continues, good faith negotiations have already delivered wins and improved quality of life for rail employees and their families while positioning railroads to continue in their role as the backbone of the economy.
Individual Paid Sick Days
Historically, some unions have negotiated for individual paid sick days while others have negotiated for a “Supplemental Sickness Benefit” that prioritizes generous long-term sickness benefits over payment for short-term absences. However, since the most recent round of national bargaining was concluded in December 2022, the carriers represented on the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) have reached more than 40 agreements to extend individual paid sick days to employees who previously did not have them. At present, most unions at the NCCC carriers, representing more than 60% of all craft employees, now have individual paid sick days in addition to pre-existing short- and long-term paid sickness benefits already in effect across the industry. While not all agreements are the same, they are all the result of bargaining, just as they should be – and bargaining with the unions that have not yet reached individual paid sick day agreements continues.
While many operating craft employees already have highly predictable schedules that include designated work and rest days, the recent national agreements with BLET and SMART-TD also provide an opportunity for the parties to enhance quality of life for those conductors and engineers who do not enjoy the same level of predictability through local negotiations regarding job assignment and work schedule rules. The Class I freight railroads and these two unions have made significant progress in their discussions – and several comprehensive agreements to modernize scheduling practices and provide employees with more predictable schedules have already been reached.
Beyond reaching new agreements, the latest employment data demonstrates that the Class I railroads have continued growing the workforce to support the nation’s supply chain and their employees. In April 2023, Class I employment reached 121,391 – marking an impressive 8.2% increase since January 2022 and the highest level since April 2020.
Rail Employment Remains Among the Best in the Nation
The recent national agreements were historic, providing rail employees with a 24% pay increase, annual lump sum bonus payments, improvements to their world class health care plans, and additional paid time off. At present, Class I rail employees earn, on average, $100,000 in annual wages and have a total compensation package (including health and retirement benefits) valued at approximately $145,000 per year. This will grow to $160,000 by the end of the current agreement.
The developments described above further reinforce what railroads and their employees have always known: railroading is important, skilled work that powers the economy while also helping employees support a family with great pay, benefits, and a secure retirement.