2023 payment rates confirmed for H&W plans

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (Nov. 8, 2022) — Late last week, members of the Cooperating Railway Labor Organizations (CRLO) and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) convened to review and renew the payment rates for the nationally negotiated health & welfare plans including medical, dental, vision, and life/accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) benefits.

Prior to last week’s meetings, SMART-TD and BLET mailed ratification ballots to eligible members who are covered under the above plans. If ratified, the agreement would restore the 15% monthly employee cost-sharing contribution (based on the monthly payment rates set annually) that was included in the past three National Agreements. The Tentative Agreement also would provide additional benefits for hearing, speech therapy, and autism-related therapies that are not currently covered by the plans. There are no other H&W cost increases in the Tentative Agreement.

Accordingly, SMART-TD and BLET members are advised that the following payment rates (and monthly employee cost-sharing contribution rate, if ratified) will become effective January 1, 2023:

BenefitMonthly Payment Rate
Medical + Rx (non-hospital association rate)$1,972.43
Dental$68.50
Vision$8.16
Life/AD&D Coverage$12.30
Total$2,061.39
15% Cost-Sharing Contribution (proposed)$309.21
Note that the above payment rates do not include costs for on-duty coverage or other administrative costs that are paid 100% by the carriers

The above confirmed payment rates, and therefore the proposed monthly employee cost-sharing contribution rate, came in lower than the previously provided estimates, which projected the 2023 monthly employee cost-sharing contribution rate to be $319.00. As further information, as part of the last National Agreement, the monthly employee cost-sharing contribution rate has been frozen at $228.89 since July of 2016. Had that freeze not been in effect, the 15% monthly employee cost-sharing contribution rates would have been as follows;

2016: $228.89

2017: $261.37

2018: $245.07

2019: $248.59

2020: $248.59

2021: $262.10

2022: $287.46

The 2023 15% monthly employee cost-sharing contribution rate of $309.21 represents a $21.75 increase over 15% of the 2022 premium rate, had the 15% monthly cost sharing not been capped in the last National Agreement. The Tentative Agreement under consideration now includes a similar cap that takes effect at end of 2024 and that cap is an improvement over the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board.

Voting on the 2022 Tentative Agreement will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 20, 2022. Tabulation is set to occur and results will be announced on November 21.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, (Nov. 3, 2022) — The BLET and SMART-TD will host a joint town hall meeting next week to discuss the tentative national rail agreement. Members of both unions from all involved railroads are welcome to attend.

Details are as follows:

Time: 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 9

Location: BLET National Division Headquarters, 7061 E. Pleasant Valley Road, Independence, OH 44131

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce will be in attendance to answer membership questions.

A flyer for the November 9 Town Hall meeting is available.

For those who cannot attend, a video recording of the Town Hall meeting will be made available in the members’-only areas of the unions’ respective websites following the event.

Dates and locations of additional meetings will be announced as available.

BLET President Dennis Pierce (center, in black) and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson at right, in blue, speak with the hundreds of attendees at the Houston Solidarity Rally on Oct. 17.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they answered direct questions from a standing-room-only crowd Oct. 18 at the annual Solidarity Rally for Rail Labor in Houston, Texas.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson speaks during the Houston Solidarity Rally Oct. 17.

Hundreds of members and officers from SMART-TD, BLET and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) — the nation’s three largest freight rail labor unions — gathered to address hot-button issues in the industry, including the tentative National Rail Agreement (TA), to be voted upon soon by TD members.

“It was a great opportunity again to collaborate with BLET President Pierce, to get the facts out there at a face-to-face event about what’s going on in our industry,” President Ferguson said. “SMART-TD, BLET and other unions went through more than two and a half years of negotiations. There’s a lot to unpack about where the industry is right now, and it was good for us to have a factual presentation about the PEB and how the tentative agreement was constructed.

“This was a very lively event, and one where we were able to get right down to an honest discussion about our members’ upcoming ratification process and the decisions that lie ahead,” he said. “Years ago, I don’t know if the degree of solidarity among these different unions would have existed. It’s open dialogue like this that’s a healthy way to combat some of the untruths that’s been floating out there regarding the tentative agreement. Both President Pierce and I are absolutely committed to working together as we continue to move forward, in solidarity.”

Along with President Ferguson, SMART General President Joseph Sellers and other officers enjoyed the hospitality of the Houston rally’s organizers. Special recognition goes out to General Chairperson Roy Davis and GCA Secretary Buddy Piland (GO 577) for putting the event together. As always, Local 1892 out of Houston was heavily involved in the hometown event, including Vice Local Chairperson Keith Green (LCA-577), Local Secretary & Treasurer Robert Maldonado, Legislative Representative Butch Boggess and retiree Dan Holak. General Chairperson Chris Alston (GCA-803) out of Local 1686, GCA Secretary Buddy Piland (GCA-577) out of Local 1205 and Darvin Scott of Local 524 also put in hard work at getting things rolling at the headquarters of SPJST Lodge 88.

Representatives from the SMART-TD Auxiliary, AFL-CIO, UTUIA, Railroad Retirement Board and NARVRE as well as United Healthcare, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and a number of SMART-TD Designated Legal Counsel attended as well.

Local 1892’s Maldonado estimated that there were anywhere from 250 to 300 people in attendance, giving it the air of a “mini-regional” meeting, even after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID pandemic.

“GC Davis was telling me that 30 to 40 general chairpersons from throughout the country were in attendance and are looking forward to this event next year already,” Maldonado said. “Quite a few BLET GCs from the Texas/Gulf Coast area were in attendance as well. This rally is a multi-craft and multi-railroad (UP/BNSF/KCS/PORT TERMINAL RR) and from what I’ve been told, the biggest and best one held throughout the country.”

Maldonado said nine SMART locals participated as well as four BLET lodges and BMWED Lodge 1058.

“A big thank-you goes to the Houston-area Designated Legal Counsel Marc Zito, Sara Youngdahl and Clint McGuire for their continued support and sponsorship of this huge event. I don’t want to forget to thank SMART-TD Auxiliary 281 for their help with the decorations and SMART-TD Texas State Legislative director Kamron Saunders for sponsorship and support as well,” he said.

“I was told that this year’s rally was the best one yet and that having Presidents Ferguson and Pierce attend was a home run,” Maldonado said. “So we will start prepping for the 2023 Solidarity Rally next year. Everything is BIGGER in TEXAS.”

Next on President Ferguson’s schedule is a discussion at the Tacoma Regional Training Seminar occurring this week.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, right, appears on Episode 5 of the Between the Rails podcast with host Jon Chaffin of Local 1313, left.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson appeared in a joint video with Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce on Oct. 7 with both presenting facts regarding the Tentative Agreement (TA) being considered by rail labor.

President Ferguson also answered additional questions regarding the TA on a pair of episodes of the Between the Rails podcast over the weekend as well.

The joint video with the BLET can be seen here.

The first episode of Between the Rails that President Ferguson appeared on is available here.

The second episode of Between the Rails featuring President Ferguson is available here.

As of 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Friday, Oct. 7, the 15-day question-and-answer submission period concluded. The next steps in the process of considering the agreement will consist of meetings between legal representatives of both SMART-TD and the carriers that will address the questions posed by members and their General Chairpersons, and then coming to agreed-upon interpretations to answer these questions.

The completed Q&A document will be released in conjunction with the full text of the TA prior to the start of the 21-day TA balloting period toward the end of October.

Jeremy Ferguson, President, SMART Transportation Division and Dennis Pierce, President, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Teamsters Rail Conference, on move announced by the nation’s largest railroads to further abuse shippers and gridlock the supply chain in order to extort a contract settlement from rail unions:

CLEVELAND — Late on Friday, September 9, the nation’s largest railroads began warning major shippers that they are declaring an embargo on certain types of new shipments five days in advance of the end of the federally mandated cooling-off period at 12:00 AM EDT September 16. They further advised that all rail shippers could be blocked from making any rail shipments well in advance of next Friday’s deadline for a lockout or strike. This completely unnecessary attack on rail shippers by these highly profitable Class I railroads is no more than corporate extortion.

Our Unions remain at the bargaining table and have given the rail carriers a proposal that we would be willing to submit to our members for ratification, but it is the rail carriers that refuse to reach an acceptable agreement. In fact, it was abundantly clear from our negotiations over the past few days that the railroads show no intentions of reaching an agreement with our Unions, but they cannot legally lock out our members until the end of the cooling-off period. Instead, they are locking out their customers beginning on Monday and further harming the supply chain in an effort to provoke congressional action.

The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our Unions to cave into their contract demands knowing that our members would never accept them. Our Unions will not cave into these scare tactics, and Congress must not cave into what can only be described as corporate terrorism.

Rather than gridlock the supply chain by denying shipments and potentially locking our members out next Friday, the railroads should work towards a fair settlement that our members, their employees, would ratify. For that to happen, we must make improvements to the working conditions that have been on the bargaining table since negotiations began. Penalizing engineers and conductors for getting sick or going to a doctor’s visit with termination must be stopped as part of this contract settlement. Let us repeat that, our members are being terminated for getting sick or for attending routine medical visits as we crawl our way out of a worldwide pandemic.

No working-class American should be treated with this level of harassment in the workplace for simply becoming ill or going to a routine medical visit. Sadly, the Presidential Emergency Board recommendation got it wrong on this issue. As we have said from the day that they were implemented, these policies are destroying the lives of our members, who are the backbone of the railroad industry.

These employment policies have forced thousands of employees out of the industry and make it all but impossible to recruit new workers. With understaffed operations, these railroads abuse their best customers by refusing to provide deliveries consistent with their legal obligations. These self-appointed titans of industry complain constantly about government regulation and interference — except now when it comes to breaking the backs of their employees. It’s time for the federal government to tell the CEO’s who are running the nation’s railroads into the ground that enough is enough. Congress should stay out of the rail dispute and tell the railroads to do what other business leaders do — sit down and bargain a contract that your employees will accept.

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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.

Brothers and Sisters of our unions:

Presidential Emergency Board (“PEB” or “the Board”) 250 conducted hearings in Washington, D.C. this past week, concluding on July 28th. We both were honored to represent our unions and, by extension, the memberships of the dozen strong United Rail Unions as we presented and testified in support of our unified case to the PEB. We are sharing this joint message to ensure that our members are up to date on all of the bargaining round issues.

For the first time in history, the 12 United Rail Unions, representing 115,000 members in every craft in the industry, presented a unified case on wages, healthcare, sick leave and holidays to the Board. Also for the first time in history, SMART-TD and BLET presidents made joint presentations on our unions’ proposals to eliminate carrier-imposed attendance policies, provide for voluntary rest days for road crews, and to increase away-from-home terminal meal allowances. In addition, BLET Director of Benefits Dan Cook, who also serves as the Cooperating Railway Labor Organizations’ administrator, testified in support of the United Rail Unions’ unified Health and Welfare proposal and SMART-TD VP Brent Leonard testified in opposition to the crew consist issues that the carriers attempted to improperly raise in this proceeding.

At the conclusion of the first day of hearings on July 24, and in an effort to keep our memberships current on the status of the bargaining round, the United Rail Unions released summaries of our final proposals before the Board, as well as the carriers’ final proposals. Those proposals are still available on our union websites. We encourage all members to take the time to review them, and more importantly, realize just how far apart the two sides remain after more than two and a half years of negotiations.

As has been said since an update from the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition in January 2021 and in every update from rail labor since, it is also important to remember who is responsible for the absence of an acceptable National Rail Contract settlement. By reviewing the carriers’ final proposal presented before the PEB, it remains all too evident that they continue to refuse to make a realistic and worthy proposal that our voting members would ratify. That is why our contract dispute has reached a PEB, one of the final steps under the Railway Labor Act.

Regarding the unions’ final presentation before the PEB, it’s important to see how the union leadership arrived at their final proposal. Both parties served Section 6 notices in this round of bargaining at the start of negotiations in late 2019. Those notices are a mandatory starting point in the bargaining process, and generally include every item on which each individual union seeks to negotiate. As the parties negotiate, each side’s list of issues is prioritized to ensure that the most important ones are addressed in the ultimate contract settlement.

This bargaining round was no different. Based on membership feedback, several items were initially identified early on as key priorities including, increasing wages, rejecting concessions on healthcare, addressing unreasonable attendance policies and paid sick leave, and establishing predictable time away from work. The need for paid sick leave without penalty became even more evident with the pandemic and the manpower shortages caused by carriers’ continued mismanagement.

Leadership of the SMART-TD and BLET collaborated on presenting our craft-specific issues throughout negotiations and collaborated with our entire bargaining coalition on our shared issues. But, as is now obvious, the carriers refused to engage in meaningful bargaining on our most important issues. Multiple proposals were exchanged over these last two and a half years, including varying wage proposals, all in an effort to come to a voluntary agreement worthy of ratification by the membership.

Nowhere else was the distance between the sides more evident than in the discussion of wages. Contracts of both five- and six-year durations were proposed and discussed, driving differing values for the wage package. Our last unified wage proposal as we were released from mediation in June contained a six-year proposal with wage increases occurring July 1st of each year totaling 40%, with 36% of that payable in the first five years. In contrast, in January of 2022, the carriers’ proposed wage increase totaling 11% and their last proposal as we were released from mediation was a five-year proposal with wage increases occurring on July 1st of each year totaling 14%.

With a gap that wide, it was no surprise that voluntary efforts, as well as mandatory government-sponsored mediation, failed to reach an agreement. Once the parties were released from mediation, the United Rail Unions immediately began work preparing their final unified proposal to be presented to the PEB. That process included union leaders, the unions’ collective legal counsel, health care experts, and an expert economist. In the end, the unions agreed to present the summarized proposal shared with our memberships on July 24 at the close of the first day of hearings.

Before we get into the wage proposal numbers, it is important to understand the status of our negotiations as we went before the PEB. The PEB is not the start of negotiations. As explained above, the start of the negotiations happened when our lengthy Section 6 notices were served in 2019. Further, the PEB hearing is not a negotiation; it is an opportunity for both sides to present their final proposals, which must be supported with extensive economic data through live testimony. In this case, the hearing spanned five days, where both parties made presentations by expert witnesses to support their proposals. 

In crafting the unions’ final wage proposal, and knowing that those proposals had to be supported by our expert economist, an in-depth analysis was conducted — taking into account long-term wage growth, past and present, as well as increases in the cost of living for the years covered by the agreement. Consideration also had to be given to the financial value of the other non-wage proposals going before the PEB as part of crafting a final proposal that we believe the Board would recommend.

In the period between the close of NMB mediation in June and the PEB hearings in July, and after consultation with the unions’ economic expert, the unions determined that the wage proposal that could be best supported by our economic data was a final, unified proposal totaling a 28% gross wage increase (GWI), uncompounded, over five years. While some saw that move from our previous position of 36% over five years as too big, it is not certain that they understood the proposal’s other terms.

One other component of our final proposal was to move from the July 1 annual wage increase dates in our 36% proposal, to annual January 1 wage increases. The effect of this change is fairly simple math — paying each raise six months sooner doubles the value of each wage increase in the year it is applied.  In fact, on a base salary of $100,000, advancing the GWI schedule by six months each year generates additional compensation of over $15,000 during the term of the agreement as compared to July 1 annual increases. For someone with a base salary of $75,000, the advancement generates additional compensation of over $11,000 during the term of the Agreement — vastly reducing the financial gap between the 28% and prior 36% proposals. On the same base salaries, the unified proposal with the earlier effective dates would also generate in excess of $20,000 and $16,000, respectively, in back pay for the years 2020, 2021 and 2022. 

While we do not agree that it should impact the PEB decision, the history of wage increases in our National Agreements was part of the carriers’ presentation in opposition to not only our proposed wage increase values, but also against the earlier annual increase dates. That history is straightforward; no National Agreement in the past 45 years has included GWIs totaling over 18% for a five-year period. Regardless of that history, our economist clearly laid out the economic support for the 28% wage proposal presented to the PEB. 

Our health and welfare experts also made the case that no additional health and welfare costs should be pushed onto employees. We made the case for needed sick days and additional holidays for all involved Unions. We made a joint case for eliminating all non-negotiated attendance policies, allowing General Committees to serve notice to compel on-property bargaining for voluntary rest days, and improvements to our held away meal allowances.

All in all, the United Rail Unions made a sound, reasonable case before the PEB.  We must thank our team’s legal counsel, health care experts, expert economist and all of the witnesses who gave testimony on behalf of our United Rail Unions. In the coming weeks, we will receive the PEB’s recommendations for settlement of our dispute and then consider them.

While it was not possible, we also wish every member of every union could have attended the hearings before PEB 250 and to have had a chance to testify on their own behalf about the conditions, the struggles, and the situations that carriers have created for the people whose work brings them profit. Through their actions, and in the case of these drawn-out negotiations, their inaction, the carriers’ cavalier and pay-no-heed attitude toward our brothers and sisters who did the work through a pandemic, through job cuts and through an ongoing supply chain crisis could not be clearer. They do not care to either understand or respect their employees. Some of their assertions, such as how happy their employees are, were beyond belief — even to those of us that have heard their spin before. We refuted them all.

Following the recommendations of the PEB, the parties have another 30-day cooling off period to consider the recommendations and reach an agreement. If the carriers continue to refuse to make a ratifiable proposal, very critical decisions will have to be made during that period. As has been said time and again, do not listen to the carrier moles and trolls that attempt to blame this situation on the employees or their Unions. They are only attempting to divide us as we close in on the final months of this round of bargaining. Among our unions, our solidarity is our strength. Please do not allow those attempting to divide us to succeed.

In solidarity,

President Jeremy Ferguson

SMART Transportation Division

President Dennis Pierce,

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen

SMART-TD, BLET protest outside of BNSF shareholder meeting in Omaha

The five highlighted areas are where protestors were allowed to congregate outside of the CHI Health Center where the BNSF shareholder’s meeting was being held.

While Berkshire Hathaway shareholders sat April 30 in comfort and national cable-news networks live-streamed and deified wealth hoarder Warren Buffett and his executive cronies at the company’s annual meeting, BNSF railroad workers, as always, were out in the elements doing the hard things – this time protesting.

Protesters gathered in the early-morning hours – some as early as 4 a.m. when the parking garages opened – to split up evenly to protest in five different areas outside of the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Neb. Doors opened to the shareholder meeting at 7 a.m., and the picketers wanted to be outside as the shareholders arrived. They were joined by two LED video billboard trucks slamming Buffett and BNSF CEO Katie Farmer for their Hi-Viz attendance policy.

LED video billboard trucks joined in the protest by driving in a loop around the health center to help gain attention for the picketers.

Carrying signs saying “They use us and abuse us,” “Fair wages, fair treatment,” and “Railroaders’ lives matter,” outside of the site of the so-called “Woodstock for Capitalists,” as members of the SMART Transportation Division, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), their respective auxiliaries and other members of rail labor mobilized in the rain outside CHI Health Center.

SMART-TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller holds up signs outside of the meeting.

“We had a great turnout despite the weather. We were able to cross paths with I’d say around 90% of the participants that were walking into the building,” Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity said of the around 60 protestors present.

“The crowd was fired up – it was divide and conquer. A very lively crowd,” said Vice President Chad Adams who joined in the two-hour protest.

Vice President Joe Lopez, Texas State Legislative Director Kamron Saunders, Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, Missouri State Legislative Director Jason Hayden and New Mexico State Legislative Director Don Gallegos joined Adams, Cassity and SMART-TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller at the protest.

Mobilizing our members as well were General Chairpersons Mike LaPresta (GO 001); Scott Swiatek (GO 009); and Luke Edington (GO 953).

“It was great seeing spouses and family involved in today’s protest showing their support,” Seegmiller said. “We want change and won’t be going away or backing down.”

Cassity echoed this sentiment saying, “It was great to see labor standing in solidarity, members shoulder-to-shoulder and fighting for what’s right for the membership. We’re taking the fight to the railroads and we’re not going to back down. The shareholders that were present at the meeting were there discussing the progress that they have made off of the backs of our members and it’s important that they understand that we won’t back down and we won’t go away until the right thing has been done.”

According to the Informational Protest – Omaha NE 2022 Facebook page, the picketers were regrouping and being joined by more supporters who could not make the morning session in the afternoon around 2:30 p.m.

Adams said that today’s movement is just the beginning.

“The group was talking about getting back together at the UP shareholders meeting next month – one thing builds another, just keep the pressure on and that’s what we can do,” he said.

According to the Facebook page, the group is in the early stages of planning another protest outside of the North American Rail Shippers Association annual meeting on May 9 – 11 in Kansas City, Mo., where CEOs from CP, BNSF and CSX are featured speakers.

Top left: A large crowd of SMART-TD and BLET members and their supporters gathered in solidarity. Top middle: Missouri SLD Jason Hayden (left) and National Safety Team Assistant Director Dan Bonawitz join in the protest. Top right: SMART-TD members come together in solidarity to picket. Middle left: Rallying speeches were made by leadership. Middle right: Picketers stand in the rain trying to get their message across to BNSF shareholders and the public. Bottom left: The rain did not deter picketers from getting their message across. Bottom middle: SMART-TD Vice President Chad Adams (left) and Texas SLD Kamron Saunders (second left) picket with SMART-TD members. Bottom right: BLET member Megan Lundy, BLET Vice President Rachel Pharris and SMART-TD Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller band together for the first time to protest BNSF’s Hi-Viz attendance policy. Photos courtesy of VP Chad Adams and Auxiliary President Kathryn Seegmiller.

CLEVELAND (April 6) — Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure are asking the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to take action on a 2008 Congressional mandate to address rail worker fatigue at Class I carriers, with a specific reference to attendance policies such as those imposed at CSX, Union Pacific, and BNSF.

In an April 6 joint letter to FRA Administrator Amit Bose, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, along with Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, remind the FRA Administrator of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), which established a law requiring railroads to implement fatigue management and reduction plans.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio

“The Congressional mandate to mitigate fatigue among crewmembers and other safety-related workers is now a decade late,” Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne wrote. “Crewmembers and other craft workers have raised their concerns about being excessively exhausted at work, which is worsened by PSR. These workers cannot wait any longer, and neither can the communities through which trains travel. To mitigate attendance policies that contribute to fatigue and help ensure all safety-related workers are rested and prepared to do the job safely, we respectfully urge your agency to issue the fatigue risk management program final rule without delay, require its swift implementation, and meaningfully enforce it to ensure that the 2008 bipartisan Congressional mandate is met.”

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr.

In the letter, Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne lay the cause of fatigue at the feet of the nation’s Class I railroads. The industry’s self-inflicted problems, such as inaccurate train lineups and the implementation of harsh attendance policies, contribute greatly to rail worker fatigue.

“We believe that attendance policies that not only contribute to fatigue but also penalize workers for taking off when fatigued or ill simply cannot co-exist with any serious fatigue risk management program,” the Representatives wrote. “Rather, these policies could incentivize employees to show up to work fatigued in order to avoid reprimand or termination. They also ignore the unfortunate reality that crewmembers already have unpredictable and unreliable schedules, which makes this line of work difficult for many, even before policies that further restrict their lives and abilities to obtain proper rest.”

Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Payne are also highly critical of the industry’s implementation of the so-called precision scheduled railroading (PSR) business operating model.

“Class I carriers have substantially reduced the size of their workforces since implementing precision scheduled railroading (PSR) at the behest of Wall Street investors. Unions representing railroad workers and individual workers have sounded the alarm on rail worker fatigue, which they believe is worsened by the deployment of PSR and the resulting push to do more work with nearly one-third fewer people on the job.”

Leaders of the nation’s two largest railroad unions, which represent the nation’s train operating crews, applauded the April 6 letter.

“We want to make it clear that we are fighting attendance policies at all Class I carriers. Fatigue has long been a problem at CSX, UP, BNSF, NS and other rail carriers, but it has been made much worse because of extreme job cuts resulting from the implementation of PSR coupled with the industry’s determination to force harsh attendance policies upon the remaining workforce,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce. “SMART-TD and the BLET have also put the issue on the table in our national negotiations, currently in mediation, demanding that all imposed attendance policies be rescinded with negotiated attendance contract rules to take their place. On behalf of our members, we thank Representative DeFazio and Representative Payne for shining a light on this pressing issue in our industry and being vocal leaders for rail worker safety.”

Read the representatives’ letter (PDF)

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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.

CLEVELAND, Ohio (April 6, 2022) — The nation’s two largest railroad unions continue to gather allies and momentum as they oppose the imposition of precision scheduled railroading (PSR) tactics by Class I carriers that put safety and the health and lives of working people at risk.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson, President of the Air Line Pilots Association Capt. Joe DePete and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce meet April 4 at the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO Executive Committee session in Washington, D.C.

At the April 4 Executive Committee meeting of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (AFL-CIO TTD), a pair of airline unions pledged to support rail labor in the fight against unfair PSR-related practices such as BNSF’s “Hi-Viz” attendance policy, which requires rail workers to be available to work 29 of 30 days or risk being penalized. Additionally, the AFL-CIO TTD adopted language in its legislative agenda that encourages railroads to work together with rail labor to reconsider overly punitive attendance policies.

Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, pledged to support rail labor in opposing egregious attendance policies. The airline union leaders also vowed to stand by rail labor in the current round of national contract negotiations. Railroad and airline unions are governed by the Railway Labor Act.

Despite record fiscal returns in 2021 and lip service on the part of Class I carriers showing appreciation for the “essential” job that rail workers performed to move goods and services 24/7 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the railroads have chosen to not treat their employees with dignity and fairness during negotiations.

“Supply-chain issues were highlighted in the news at the end of 2021, but the shelves were stocked. It’s not thanks to PSR — that’s resulted in the rail industry doing less with less while making more profit,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce stated. “Employees’ rewards for their work through COVID-19 are that they are being subjected to degrading attendance policies at the expense of their health and family lives.

“These carriers have cut past the bone and are well through the marrow. Now they are scrambling to get people to run their trains,” the presidents said. “What is the incentive for our members who do not have scheduled time off — instead only hours when they cannot be called back into work? What’s the incentive for our members who get punished when life events happen? Thus far our members have been the recipients of nothing but insulting offers at the bargaining table.”

These practices have drawn the attention of media outlets such as Vice Magazine and UK’s The Guardian, as well as transportation labor at large. AFL-CIO TTD’s legislative agenda adopted April 4 states the following:

“Hi-Viz and similar policies serve to do nothing more than increase demands of an already exhausted workforce. For the dignity of these rail workers, their quality of life, and the safety of our nation’s freight railroad network, they must be abandoned and reconsidered.”

The leaders of SMART-TD and BLET will continue to work for intervention on the federal level, including at the Surface Transportation Board, Federal Railroad Administration, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Labor, Congress and in the White House itself, to stop in its tracks the dangerous and reckless nature of the path that the Class I rail carriers have chosen to take.

Also at the April 4 TTD Executive Council meeting, it was announced that five Republication U.S. representatives have contacted the BNSF Railway and encouraged its CEO to reengage with its operating unions to alter the highly-restrictive and punitive Hi-Viz attendance policy.

Read the TTD’s priority statement on rail attendance policies.

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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.

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 7, 2022) — In conjunction with the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) urge all members to engage in a petition drive to bring attention to the draconian and punitive attendance policies that have forced rail workers to live in constant fatigue.

This effort comes simultaneously with a letter by AFL-CIO TTD President Greg Regan to the federal Departments of Labor and Transportation in support of both unions’ request in late January for an investigation into all rail carrier attendance policies, not just BNSF’s recently imposed “Hi-Viz” policy that has sparked outrage among all affected employees.

The petition is available here.

“We speak with one voice, shoulder-to-shoulder, in saying enough is enough. Congress must act to end these unsafe and life-sapping policies that punish workers with job loss. These severe and excessively harsh policies also penalize families by taking away what precious little time they have with their loved ones, leaving them dead tired and drained,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce said. “We thank TTD President Regan as our organizations continue to oppose draconian carrier attendance policies, such as the BNSF ‘Hi-Viz’ policy. These policies are clearly designed to further maximize carrier profits at the workers’ expense. Our unions will work jointly with TTD to raise awareness of these issues; they have gone unchallenged by our legislators and regulatory agencies for much too long.”

A case in point— according to a report in Business Insider published on March 4, five Democratic political leaders want an investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) into Amazon’s attendance policies, and we have one question for them:

When do railroad workers get their turn?

Warren Buffett, while not as rich as Jeff Bezos, was crowing about BNSF’s record 2021 profits. It just so happens that his railroad, which happens to be the largest in the nation, imposed the draconian and punitive “Hi-Viz” policy that is absolutely in line with what Amazon is doing — points, permanent records and punishment for people if life gets in the way of work. Other Class I railroads have similar attendance policies. All of these need to be examined closely so that all workers receive the stable work-life balance that they DESERVE.

We’ve seen members’ posts on the internet, we have taken the calls and we have read and responded to the emails from our memberships. This is a top priority for SMART Transportation Division and BLET leaders. We need to work together and unite for a positive change instead of directing anger and discontent inward. As we continue to work with our elected leaders for the same help and support, it stands to reason that we will be reminding Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Richard Blumenthal as well as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker and Cori Bush that they should push for answers from BNSF and other railroads with the same energy and focus that they are placing on Amazon.

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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.