Unions counter Norfolk Southern COVID vaccine mandate

Published: October 29, 2021

CLEVELAND, Ohio, (Oct. 29, 2021) — The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) have responded to the suit Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) filed against them on Oct. 21, 2021, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Chicago Division. The two Organizations not only answered NS’ allegations, they also filed counterclaims challenging NS actions in implementing their vaccine policy without the bargaining mandated by the Railway Labor Act.

The railroad has taken the position that it has the right to implement and enforce a COVID vaccination mandate among its employees, and requests the court to issue a declaratory judgment holding that the dispute between the railroad and the unions is a “minor” dispute, which must be arbitrated if the parties cannot come to a satisfactory settlement.

The unions have countered that NS has no such authority, and their actions in failing to negotiate terms of implementation violate the status quo requirement of the Railway Labor Act, thus engendering a major dispute.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce issued the following joint statement regarding their action:

“NS has ordered all employees to report that they are fully vaccinated by December 8th, or they will be unable to continue working. And, instead of negotiating with us as the law requires, the Carrier is directly dealing with its employees by offering a payment for compliance with its unilateral mandate.

“We generally support our members getting the vaccine. However, we have several objections to NS’s unilateral implementation of their policies mandating them and illegally dealing directly with its represented employees. The members of our Unions — including members who already are vaccinated — are irate over NS’s outrageous conduct.

“We have been in contract negotiations with NS since November of 2019, and federal law absolutely bars railroads from changing rates of pay, rules and working conditions while negotiations are ongoing. Not only is NS in violation of the law, it has explicitly spurned our demands that these matters be bargained. We will continue to fight on behalf of all BLET and SMART–TD members in an effort to stop NS’s lawlessness in its tracks.”

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.