Engineers get frustrated with rails while others get sick

“They want to talk the money out of our pockets somewhere else and give it back to us in the form of sick leave.”

(LM Otero | AP file photo) A worker rides a railroad car at a BNSF level crossing in Saginaw, Texas on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. Tens of thousands of engineers remain frustrated by the lack of paid sick time and demands from railways as BNSF negotiate, despite progress made in 2023 with sick time agreements for most other railway unions.

Omaha, Neb. • Tens of thousands of engineers remain frustrated by the lack of paid sick leave and the demands rail companies like BNSF are making in negotiations, despite agreements reached this year for most other rail unions.

The lack of sick leave and other quality of life concerns related to the demanding work of train attendants were the focus of negotiations last fall, which teetered on the brink of a strike before Congress stepped in and blocked a strike.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Union says railroads still charge too much in return for sick leave instead of just providing the basic services they think they are entitled to.

“They want to take the money elsewhere and give it back to us in the form of sick leave,” said Rob Cunningham, one of the BLET chairs, who is leading negotiations with the BNSF.

BLET’s frustrations generally extend to all major rail freight companies, but Cunningham said BNSF appeared to be particularly “tough” in talks last week.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad is in the spotlight this weekend for being owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and thousands of enthusiastic shareholders packed an arena in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday to hear him ask questions answered.

Buffett had no questions about how BNSF treats its employees, but Buffett is extremely cautious about Berkshire’s companies and largely lets them run themselves. In the past, he has declined to engage in collective bargaining at subsidiaries.

“You’d think with something as simple as paid sick leave, he could just say, ‘Do it. We must do this. That’s the thing,” Cunningham said of Buffett, who is also a major philanthropist.

“But he’s clearly not practicing what he preaches,” Cunningham said.

BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said the railroad has already reached agreements to provide sick leave to more than 6,000 of its employees across eight of its unions and “it is our intention ultimately to reach agreements that cover our entire scheduled workforce.”

CSX has been at the forefront of the industry as a whole by having sick leave agreements in place with most of its unions. Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific have also announced multiple sick leave calls. Most of these agreements provide workers with four days of paid sick leave and the ability to convert three vacation days into sick days, giving workers a total of seven sick days per year.

“CSX is committed to ensuring that all employees feel valued, respected and valued and act as one team,” said spokeswoman Sheriee Bowman.

Most of the other deals announced are focused on smaller unions that do maintenance and repair work along the rails and generally work on a more regular basis. The conductors’ union – the transport branch of the International Federation of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport Workers – has reached agreements with NS and CSX that include five paid sick days and the option to convert two days of personal leave.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division Union, which represents track maintainers, was able to make sick-leave arrangements with the UP, CSX and Norfolk Southern, but they had to fight to get that benefit without making concessions.

The engineering union has yet to make a single sick leave agreement with any of the railroads.

One of the key remaining concerns for the BLET is that even where railroads appear willing to allow engineers sick time, railroads generally still want to hold workers accountable for missing work under their strict attendance policies. Even if workers get sick, they may not be able to use them as they would still be penalized for missing work, although CSX has stated it will not penalize workers for being sick.

“We will have train drivers and conductors who have the choice to work sick and handle some of the most dangerous items that any haulage group handles, but they will work sick or be subject to attendance policies,” said Mark Wallace, the BLET’s second-highest officer.

US Senator Bernie Sanders, who has pressured railroads to give workers sick leave and tried unsuccessfully to demand it when Congress voted on the contract in December, said he was heartened by the industry’s progress to date been.

Since the beginning of the year, more than a third of all railway employees have been paid in the event of illness. At CSX and Norfolk Southern, the proportion of workers who are now ill is about two-thirds.

But more needs to be done, and without compromise, the Vermont independent said.

“This should have happened years ago, and it’s long overdue for these companies to deliver these benefits now,” Sanders said.

Sanders said all the publicity the railroads received last fall for refusing to provide sick time forced them to do so.

“Ultimately the rail industry understood that it is very hard to defend record breaking profits and massive share buybacks and then say they don’t have enough money to do the right and decent thing for workers and so guarantees them paid sick days” said Sanders.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said he hopes the deals his union has reached with CSX and Norfolk Southern to secure five sick days become a model for doing business with the rest of the railroads. But he’s also focused on relieving conductors of the strict attendance policies that have kept them on 24-hour standby for the past few years.

“This is where we really got in trouble with the carriers,” Ferguson said.

The deal SMART-TD struck with Norfolk Southern last week seeks to ensure conductors know their days off in advance. Norfolk Southern spokesman Thomas Crosson said these new rules should help as conductors will generally work six days at a time followed by two days off and each week’s schedule will be more predictable.

Justin Scaccy

InternetCloning is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button