Tentative Railroad Strike Railway Labor Agreement Annouced by President Biden

Image Credit:The Lyda Hill Foundation; 2014; (DLC/PP-2014:054).
Forms part of: Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive.


“The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people. It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years. These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned. The agreement is also a victory for railway companies who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come. I thank the unions and rail companies for negotiating in good faith and reaching a tentative agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruption of our economy.

I am grateful for the hard work that Secretaries Walsh, Buttigieg, and Vilsack, and NEC Director Deese put into reaching this tentative agreement. I especially want to thank Secretary Walsh for his tireless, around-the-clock efforts that delivered a win for the hard working people of the US rail industry: as a result, we will keep Americans on the job in all the industries in this country that are touched by this vital industry. For the American people, the hard work done to reach this tentative agreement means that our economy can avert the significant damage any shutdown would have brought. With unemployment still near record lows and signs of progress in lowering costs, tonight’s agreement allows us to continue to fight for long term economic growth that finally works for working families.” Source: Whitehouse.gov

US freight train workers are on the verge of going on strike amid reports that the industry has been losing workers due to long hours and unfavorable working conditions for a number of years.

Railroad companies and labor organizations with 150,000 members have been engaged in contentious contract negotiations for almost three years. The Biden administration enforced a “cooling down” period after making suggestions to resolve the conflict, and it expires on Friday. Workers believe they will leave a sector that already has a staffing crisis if a settlement is not struck, and unions are preparing to take strike action for the first time since 1992.

With railroad management, two additional rail unions have tentatively agreed to new contracts. The two most significant unions, which represent the engineers and conductors who make up the two-person crews on each train, are still unable to reach an agreement as of Tuesday. The first nationwide rail strike in 30 years might begin early on Friday if they can’t work out their differences.

The American Trucking Associations issued a letter to Congress stating, “While trucking and rail companies compete for ground freight, trucking is also the largest customer of the rail industry, and both industries rely on one another to keep our supply chains healthy and efficient.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) thwarted a Republican effort on Wednesday to compel railroad employees and employers to abide by a nonpartisan panel’s recommendations in order to avert a strike that would have millions of Americans affected. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Richard Burr (R-N.C.) sponsored a resolution that would obligate railroad workers to abide by the terms of a labor agreement, but Sanders stood up on the floor to prevent its swift adoption.

According to Sanders, “the train business has witnessed significant profits in recent years and achieved a record-breaking $20 billion in profit last year alone.” The CEO of CSX received almost $20 million in total salary last year, while the CEOs of Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern each received over $14 million.

Point-based holidays are one matter that causes concern. They are used by Amazon and Walmart to cut down on unplanned absences from work. But railroads are still relatively new to such policies.

In February 2022, BNSF Railway unveiled its version, known as Hi-Viz, claiming that it will increase consistency for both staff and customers. According to the unions, it has simply made matters worse. Before the system was implemented, except for paid vacation and personal leave days, railroad conductors and engineers were practically always on call (which they do accrue in amounts determined by seniority). They often have 90 or 2 hours to report to work when they are called to duty.

If someone is unable to report to work during that window under Hi-Viz, they lose points from a starting balance of 30. Depending on the day, deductions can be anywhere between 2 and 25 points. If the day is a high profit day, the workers received a higher deduction.  Larger deductions are made on Fridays, Saturdays, holidays, and so-called “high impact days,” such as Mother’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday. They are subject to a 10-day suspension if their point balance reaches zero. Their points are then restored to 15 after that. Once their balance reaches zero once more, they are suspended for 20 days. The employee risks being let go if it happens a third time. There are numerous ways for employees to get their points back, one of which is simply showing up for work for 14 straight days.

A resolution needs to be iminent. If no deal is reached,  even a couple of days with rail workers on strike could cripple an already problematic suply chain in the U.S.

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