To address the challenges faced and compete in the 21st century, railroads must modernize all aspects of their business, including the terms and conditions of employment. In particular, certain work rules have not been updated at the national bargaining table for decades and now deviate significantly from industrial workplace standards.
MODERNIZATION OF RAILROAD WORK RULES IS AN IMPERATIVE
The success of our modern freight rail industry is due, in large part, to its ability to adapt and innovate in the face of changing times.
This has happened across every railroad system and every employee craft: steam engines were retired with the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives, modern communication networks have replaced antiquated telegraph and signal systems, advanced machinery now performs much of track maintenance and construction, and intermodal traffic has arisen as a critical component of the modern railroad business model, even as other traffic, such as passenger rail, has declined or disappeared.
These changes have not always been easy, but they have ultimately benefited everyone – including freight railroad employees – by building a vibrant transportation system that is the backbone of our economy.
The most important benefit of modernization has been improved safety. Through investment in technology, new equipment, and new methods of operation, the railroads have become one of the safest industrial sectors in the United States, and recent years have been the industry’s safest on record. Importantly, America’s railroads also have lower employee injury rates than trucking, airlines, agriculture, mining, manufacturing and construction — even lower than grocery stores.
There is, however, no point at which we can claim the work is finished.
Modernization – with all the benefits that flow from it – is a constant imperative. But anachronistic provisions fail to account for modern technology and impede rather than support the timely delivery of freight. Some of these rules also degrade rather than enhance employee quality of life. Reform can and should result in safer workplaces, better schedules, expanded skills, greater access to technology and a wider range of jobs that allow employees to go home to their families every night. Securing a future with generous pay, benefits and healthcare can and will remain part of this employment model if we succeed in meeting these challenges.
Perhaps the most glaring example of our need for modernization concerns the size and makeup of train crews. In order to take full advantage of new investments in modern technology, reduce human error and better align operational costs with other industries, railroads propose to redeploy conductors from the cab of the locomotive to ground-based positions on certain trains in PTC territory. Redeploying conductors to ground-based positions in these territories will maintain the industry’s high safety performance and meet the industry’s operational and service requirements while providing those conductors with higher quality-of-life jobs.
A Broad Range of Outdated Practices
Other critical work rule reforms likewise seek to modernize a range of outdated practices, many of which have not been reexamined for decades. In this round, the railroads are seeking changes to rules that restrict flexibility, impede efficiency, degrade the industry’s ability to compete and no longer reflect mainstream standards.
While the railroads’ proposed work rule reforms cover all crafts, the impact of those proposals vary by craft and include the following:
- Changes to various provisions that limit subcontracting flexibility in areas that are not core to our operations, do not align with the best deployment and utilization of our skilled employees, impede our ability to perform regular maintenance and repair and respond promptly to unexpected events, and impose significant additional cost, delay and operational impact throughout our network.
- Updating provisions that restrict management discretion over the assignment of work or that continue to allow for antiquated methods of distribution of work assignments. Additional discretion in these areas would add flexibility over which crafts (as well as employees with certain qualifications within a craft) may perform work in various circumstances, when such work may be assigned and performed, the duration of time the work may be performed, and the circumstances under which work rules may be relaxed to meet customer demands.
- Simplifying carrier agreements, consolidating multiple legacy railroad contracts within the same workgroup, reducing methods of payment calculation, and accelerating when certain operational changes may be implemented. By simplifying these provisions, railroads will bring these aspects of existing agreements into greater alignment with mainstream business practices and eliminate or revise outdated, unnecessary, and/or overly complex agreement language, pay systems, and notice rules.
- Eliminating or revising other work rules that inhibit efficient operations and modernizing outdated agreement terms to correspond to current standards in American transportation, including relaxing arbitrary geographical limits on work performed by train crews, allowing for greater flexibility to timely deploy well-trained teams to critical projects, and sun setting excessive forms and lengths of furlough protections not enjoyed elsewhere in U.S. industries.