Updated Jan. 10, 2024 – It’s been one year since the most recent round of national bargaining concluded and progress in the freight rail industry continues on issues that matter for employees and their families. Over the past 12 months, each of the Class I freight railroads that form the National Carriersʼ Conference Committee (NCCC) has worked closely with their local unions to address topics such as paid sick leave and scheduling flexibility. These new agreements have already delivered wins and immediate quality-of-life improvements for rail employees while positioning railroads to continue powering the U.S. economy.


Individual Paid Sick Days

Since national bargaining concluded in December 2022, the NCCC carriers have reached more than 50 agreements to extend individual paid sick days to employees who previously did not have them.

Today, more than 90% of union-represented craft employees at the NCCC carriers now can use individual paid sick days, in addition to federal sickness benefits funded by the railroads that have long been available to all rail employees. About half of rail employees also possess a supplemental sickness benefit that pays benefits as soon as an absence exceeds three days. And excluding time off covered by sickness benefits, the average rail employee receives 25-29 days of paid time off depending upon craft, with the most senior employees receiving 37-39 days of paid time off.

These new sick leave agreements, which vary, are the result of good faith negotiations over how to advance employee priorities, and discussions continue with the few local unions that have not yet reached individual paid sick day agreements.


Scheduling Predictability

As provided to occur in the recent national agreements, most NCCC railroads have now negotiated and reached several comprehensive agreements with BLET and SMART-TD to modernize scheduling practices and provide engineers and conductors with more predictable work schedules. These agreements vary but now provide for available rest days for more than 80% of the approximately 48,000 BLET- and SMART-TD-represented employees of NCCC carriers, significantly enhancing the overall predictability of schedules and quality of work-life balance for engineers and conductors across the freight rail industry.


Rail Employment Remains Among the Best in the Nation

The 2022 national agreements provided rail employees with a historic 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, more than $100,000 in annual wages and have a total compensation package (including health and retirement benefits) valued at more than $150,000 per year. This will grow to $160,000 by the end of the current agreement. For 2024, healthcare premiums under the National and SMART-TD Railroad Plans for unionized rail employees will remain the same as 2023, despite growing medical and pharmacy costs nationally.

The total compensation package described above results from decades of collective bargaining and places Class I railroads in the top 10% of all U.S. industries. And the latest employment data demonstrates that the Class I railroads have continued growing the workforce to support the nationʼs supply chain and the American economy. In November 2023, Class I employment reached 122,356, marking a 9% increase since the beginning of 2022.

The developments described above further reinforce what railroads and their employees have always known: railroading is valuable, skilled work that powers the economy. With great pay, leading health benefits, and a secure retirement, railroad jobs continue to be some of the best jobs in America.

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