To address challenges 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.
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 the U.S. 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.
Even with these advances, the work to improve safety is never finished.
Modernization – with all the benefits that flow from it – is a constant imperative. But outdated provisions fail to account for modern technology and impede rather than support the timely delivery of freight.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 an improved quality of life, 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 railroads succeed in meeting these challenges.
A chief example of the need for modernization concerns the size and makeup of train crews. 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 Positive Train Control (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 that include more predictable schedules.
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 addressed 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 operations, do not align with the best deployment and utilization of skilled employees, impede the ability to perform regular maintenance and repair and respond promptly to unexpected events, and impose significant additional cost, delay and operational impact throughout the 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.
- Incremental changes to scheduling practices will improve efficiencies and quality of life for employees. For instance, adopting a modern job assignment process for locomotive engineers and conductors could automate job selection and placement systems, help utilize freight pools more effectively and regulate pools by common sense metrics such as number of starts and length of runs instead of mileage.
- Eliminating or revising other work rules that inhibit efficient operations and modernizing outdated agreement terms to correspond to current standards in American transportation. This includes 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.