For the first time in more than 30 years, this Union has taken the Railway Labor Act (RLA) to its limits. We negotiated. We mediated. We cooled off. We went all the way to a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) and then back into a cooling-off period again. The coordinated bargaining group was tasked with obtaining the best benefits possible, and we never stopped fighting.

I understand the desire amongst many of you to strike. I know the contempt the carriers treat you with at work and have faced it in negotiations. I agree that this nation needs to know and understand just how poorly you and your families are being treated by America’s Class I railroads. You sacrificed every day for the last several years in the face of this disregard for the sake of your families, your communities and this nation. Working through the pandemic, you endured as critical essential infrastructure workers. You put your health and safety on the line to ensure the world continued to function uninterrupted.

Our supply chain remained intact because of your efforts. How did the carriers respond? With nothing more than “labor doesn’t contribute to profits.” It is clear from not only their words, but also their actions that their sole focus was and still is to satisfy Wall Street investors and their constant desire to maximize profits.

In the face of all this, why did we not strike? It is not due to the RLA, but rather because of the commerce clause contained within the Constitution of the United States of America. The fact is, Congress would not risk any more harm to the supply chain than what the railroads have already committed since the advent of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). We were then faced with an ugly reality. We could refuse to negotiate any further and initiate the strike procedures, which, in turn, would have been blocked by Congress with the PEB imposed upon us, or we could come to a tentative agreement that then gives you a voice in these proceedings through a direct up or down vote. Beyond empowering each and every member in the process, the agreement opens new ground and cracks open the door to attendance policies being negotiated at the table, instead of through unilateral edicts from the carriers.

The fact is, Congress would not risk any more harm to the supply chain than what the railroads have already committed since the advent of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). We were then faced with an ugly reality. We could refuse to negotiate any further and initiate the strike procedures, which, in turn, would have been blocked by Congress with the PEB imposed upon us, or we could come to a tentative agreement that then gives you a voice in these proceedings through a direct up or down vote. Beyond empowering each and every member in the process, the agreement opens new ground and cracks open the door to attendance policies being negotiated at the table, instead of through unilateral edicts from the carriers.

From the beginning, it was clear that the carriers had no intent of negotiating in good faith. Their primary goal was to break our crew-consist agreements and force crew reductions upon us. In their list of items they wished to accomplish in negotiations (Section 6 notices) they included pay concessions from members so that you would actually have money taken away from you if their objective of single-person crews was rejected. Similarly, their proposed general wage increases (GWI) were a meager 11% with a tiered health care system that would subject you to a monthly premium (moving goal post) that was dependent upon their current health factors, the number of dependents in their respective households, and, in addition, drastic increases to deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

Needless to say, there was nothing gained during the early stages of negotiations. While you were hard at work risking your health and safety, the carriers were warm and cozy with the shareholders enjoying record profits while sitting quiet at the table, arms folded and with icy glares blanketly rejecting every proposal we put forth. We demanded our fair share, as you have seen in our published Section 6 Notices. They were absolutely unwilling to negotiate at any point. As a result, and after almost three years of the carriers’ stonewalling, the National Mediation Board (NMB) ordered the parties to mediation.

During mediation, the political climate became more influential, as the elected representatives who would eventually have oversight of our dispute were known to be more labor friendly. This caused the railroads’ bargaining unit to slightly loosen its position, which resulted in their new offer of a 16% GWI (a raise they coined – “reasonable”), but they still maintained their positions on drastic healthcare and work rule changes. Clearly, this fell well short of being acceptable, so we held strong, maintained our position and continued the battle.

Eventually, the parties were released from mediation because it was abundantly clear the carriers were not willing to engage in a conversation, much less meaningful negotiations, and given that we were at a standstill and making zero progress, the cooling-off period commenced.

The carriers drew their line in the sand from the very beginning and claimed that, in their opinion, your demands were excessive and undeserved. We had no other choice but to prepare for a strike; and that’s exactly what we did throughout the cooling-off period. While they were busy courting Wall Street and putting up smoke and mirrors to hide from their own customers and the Surface Transportation Board (STB), we were busy preparing for the first strike in more than 30 years.

The carriers drew their line in the sand from the very beginning and claimed that, in their opinion, your demands were excessive and undeserved. We had no other choice but to prepare for a strike; and that’s exactly what we did throughout the cooling-off period. While they were busy courting Wall Street and putting up smoke and mirrors to hide from their own customers and the Surface Transportation Board (STB), we were busy preparing for the first strike in more than 30 years.

Given your value and worth to this nation as the backbone of America’s economy, President Biden enacted his right, according to the RLA, to impose a PEB in a last-ditch effort for the two sides to reach an amicable agreement. The PEB appointments were publicly named, and given who was selected, we maintained faith that they would have labor’s best interests in mind.

The preparation for the PEB was immediate. Much like court, despite only having three jurors (PEB appointees) as opposed to the standard 12, we prepared to make three years’ worth of arguments in a five-day period. We stretched those days for everything we could to wage our strongest arguments for the highest priority of issues. This included a 28% GWI, no healthcare changes, 15 paid sick days, three additional holidays, a voluntary five-day work week for road service, scope rule and vacation pay changes for our yardmasters, and the abolishment of their egregious attendance policies. The carriers, of course, made all their standard rebuttal arguments on why you shouldn’t be entitled to any of our proposals, and what they wanted to gain from this process.

From day one of negotiations, we never backed down, and we never conceded to any of the items the carriers were demanding. Without question, we knew our only chance at success was to stand united and be willing to go the full distance under the RLA. Had any Union achieved or agreed to a tentative agreement prior to the PEB, it would have most likely established a potentially harmful precedence, which, historically, leaves the remaining unions to face that pattern as the most likely PEB recommendation.

Eventually, PEB 250 concluded and its jury made their ruling. Immediately it was clear the recommendations fell short. The quality-of-life issues we had fought so hard to achieve were negated, namely sick leave and the invalidation of attendance policies. Given that the additional holidays and sick leave were not included, the recommended wage increases should have been greater, and we had sound testimony to support it. The coalition hired an expert economist, and he clearly expressed what was needed in the form of an agreement to recruit and retain an adequate and talented workforce. Our stance was ignored, and the PEB members decided to meet both parties somewhere, theoretically, in the middle.

While this outcome fell short of our expectations, they did rule against the carriers’ proposal to force our crew-consist negotiations into an expedited arbitration (within six months of continued mediation), in addition to denying any forfeiture of pay raises where conductors remain in the cab of a locomotive. The board also rejected the railroads’ proposal for drastic changes to our healthcare plans which would have had long-term financial impacts on the members when they or their dependents received medical care or preventative exams. We were also successful with our position to achieve much-needed changes to the healthcare plan with respect to speech therapy, Autism Spectrum Disorder and an increase in hearing benefits.

While this outcome fell short of our expectations, they did rule against the carriers’ proposal to force our crew-consist negotiations into an expedited arbitration (within six months of continued mediation), in addition to denying any forfeiture of pay raises where conductors remain in the cab of a locomotive.

Additionally, the PEB recommended our position for rest days, but in doing so, commingled this into their decision with the carriers’ demand to implement automatic bids (ABS) and self-supporting pools (SSP) (with modifications to pool/extra board regulations). I want to be very clear that neither SMART-TD nor the BLE-T argued in support of the ABS or SSP. Unfortunately, these were two items that the carriers were successful in receiving, along with the return of the 15% monthly contribution for healthcare premiums.

Following the PEB, it was clear the carriers were not happy with what they had received. This proved to be detrimental to our collective bargaining process as the recommendation would serve as the foundation for any possible agreement moving forward. The carriers were adamant that we would not receive anything more than what was contained within the PEB, period! While most of the other Unions accepted the recommendation as written, we were determined to get more, we dug in, did not waver and continued the fight.

My objective during this time was two-fold; prepare for a national strike and negotiate additional benefits for our members in excess of the PEB recommendations. As a leader, this decision was tough. I had just as many members telling me they wanted to vote on the recommendation as I did that wanted to strike. In addition, I do not agree with, nor will be party to any attempt to restrict your right to vote. You sacrificed too much to not have a say in this process.

So, we pressed on until the 12th hour, when the political powers made it clear, regardless of what was portrayed in the media, that we would not be allowed to shut down America’s supply chain. In the final hours, we were successful in obtaining more, in spite of the headwinds and all who stated it was not possible.

In the final hours, we were successful in obtaining more, in spite of the headwinds and all who stated it was not possible.

As President of this Union, I will not sell members on this tentative agreement. It is my responsibility and duty to provide you with factual information and allow you to make an educated choice, based on the facts presented, that serves you and your family’s interest. Further, it would have been reckless of me to put your fate in the hands of politicians who know very little of the plight of a modern railroad worker in today’s PSR environment. Therefore, as it should be, the vote is now yours. No matter what your collective decision is, I will work to ensure it is heard and is acted upon.

In solidarity,

Jeremy Ferguson,
President — Transportation Division

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson issued the following statement on Aug. 18, 2022:

On Tuesday, August 16, 2022, Presidential Emergency Board 250 (PEB 250) provided the White House with its recommendations for settlement between the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) and the United Rail Unions coalition. And while the recommendations of PEB 250 were a vast improvement over the carriers’ previous proposals, the recommendations do not go far enough to provide our members with the quality of life that they have earned, and that both they and their families deserve.

Last month, the leaders of the dozen-strong United Rail Unions delivered impassioned and technically sound presentations before the PEB expressing the need for improvements to quality-of-life issues, including addressing the draconian carrier attendance policies and the need for more paid and scheduled time off. However, it would seem as if these were not deemed as key issues. Obviously, our preference was for the PEB to make firm and bold changes to that status quo, but, unfortunately, they deferred and moved these important issues back to the domain of arbitration.

Additionally, the PEB recommended a 22 percent cumulative, 24 percent compounded, raise in compensation, which, if passed, would be the largest raise rail labor has seen in 47 years, but falls well short of our proposed benchmark to provide our members, most of whom have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and have brought about the richest era in railroading history, with a rate of pay of which they are deserving and that will attract new talent. Our organizations presented real-time statistics that exhibited how our remaining members are left to shoulder the additional workload after seeing valued co-workers laid off or resigning as a direct effect of Precision Scheduled Railroading. Furthermore, it is unknown if the recommended wage and benefit package will assist in retaining workers, let alone recruit new employees into the industry. Only in time, if accepted, will we be able to correctly answer that question, but based on our initial feedback, the outlook is not good.

SMART-TD leaders made our case clear before the PEB in July that our membership and the membership of the other unions deserve better, especially in recognition of what we accomplished before, during and after the pandemic. Our position has not changed, nor have we wavered from it. We are and will continue to fight for each and every one of our members, seeking the best possible outcome in all that we engage in.

Truthfully, your union negotiators feel a level of disappointment with the PEB’s recommendations falling short on many of our requests — especially as it split the difference between what Labor and the carriers were seeking from a wage perspective, rather than choosing one over the other. While it is a slight comfort knowing that these results are still better than those the carriers previously proposed and what likely would have been obtained under the previous administration, it does little to alleviate the division between the hedge fund managers, shareholders, and railroad officers — those who have obtained record profits, bonuses, stock buybacks and lower operating ratios all the while sitting in their climate-controlled, sanitized corporate offices — while the working people, their employees, our members, fellow brothers, and sisters are on call 24/7/365, working safely, loyally, moving America’s freight and citizens.

The decision on whether to accept a tentative agreement that could be based on these recommendations may ultimately lie in the hands of those same workers whose passion and determination carried the country through a pandemic and a supply-chain crisis.

Although we share your frustration, our effort towards attaining the best possible contract for our membership will not be deterred. This is but the first step in the process, so please be patient as this situation continues to evolve. We are currently gathering and evaluating information, which includes input from the membership, as we weigh the PEB’s recommendations and what our options may be. The remaining members of the coalition will be meeting with the NRLC in the very near future to determine if a possible tentative agreement can be reached as a result of these recommendations.

In the meantime, we will be presenting factual information strictly based on the PEB recommendations in an effort to educate all involved what this could look like from a financial standpoint when evaluating GWI’s, back pay, or the 15% cost sharing associated with your health and welfare plan. These presentations will be without the opinion of SMART-TD in an effort to strictly dispel any misconceptions or misunderstandings of how these critical components should be reviewed at this time.

In solidarity,

Jeremy R. Ferguson

President, SMART Transportation Division

On the first day of the first-ever SMART Leadership Conference, Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson updated hundreds of SMART officers on the progress his administration has made in strengthening our union since his administration took office in 2019.

It was President Ferguson’s first opportunity to address a large, live assemblage of the union since the Second SMART General Convention in Las Vegas.

“We have accomplished so much together, much more than I ever imagined, with the new bonds that we have made and the promises to the delegates that we would unite this entire union for the betterment of all of our members,” he said.

He noted that the administration has made some rapid and meaningful progress, even with the challenges the membership as a whole has faced since 2019. He emphasized strides made in safety with the online Safety Condition Report introduced in early 2021, education and an accountability to membership.

Education-wise, the change from the old regional meeting model to a leadership summit such as the one in San Francisco and the regional training seminar models for a more locally-oriented experience was a shock to some, but the feedback has been largely positive from those who’ve attended.

“It was not easy to break from previous tradition, but I was adamant that we train to be the best. This week we are going to teach many important skills and values needed to be the best. We are going to lead the next generation to be better and more skilled than we are here today,” he said. “We are going to give them advantages that we were never afforded. That’s what true leadership does, they make it better for their successors.”

He noted that the years since his administration took office have been anything but normal.

“It’s been one challenge after another from court cases and other crises. There’s rail carriers’ implementation of PSR [Precision Scheduled Railroading] and refusal to reward their essential workers with a meaningful contract, brutal assaults on our bus and transit members, the supply-chain meltdown that’s followed, the exodus that is happening with good loyal workers being ground down by attendance policies and choosing to walk away from their hard-earned pensions just to have time with their family,” he said.

“Times have gotten tough here lately with such drastic shortages of bus drivers and railroad workers, but when things get tough, I know that the one thing we’re not afraid to do in the face of adversity is to show up and step up. We’re not fearful of the challenges that we see ahead after what we’ve been through.”

President Ferguson later in the day addressed a Transportation Division general session consisting of about 200 general committee and state board officers in attendance.

In it, he updated the audience on Presidential Emergency Board 250, saying that labor’s performance had the carriers on their heels. The railroads’ case essentially boiled down to “labor’s being greedy.”

“There’s no union on the outside. We’ve all got each other’s backs,” he said of the United Rail Unions, who pooled resources and stated labor’s case as a unified body before the PEB in July. “It is the best we could have done.”

Other topics included the in-progress relocation of the TD executive offices from North Olmsted, Ohio to a new site in Independence, Ohio. When the move is complete, that relocation will save a projected $2 million for the union over the new 10-year lease.

He urged officers to promote the benefits offered internally through the union, such as the TD Voluntary Short Term Disability and Discipline Income Protection programs rather than job insurance programs run by outside entities.

The cost of DIPP will decrease, effective Oct. 1, and more reductions will come in the future if the number of contributors to the program goes up.

“The more people we get in the fund, the lower we can go,” he said of the DIPP.

To close, the organizing department has been reinvigorated with new documents and an enthusiastic squad of people telling new hires why being a member of TD is the right choice. Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson heads up the department that has been inundated with new hires. “All our hard work is starting to pay off,” President Ferguson said.

From left, Local Chairperson Chris Bond (Local 513, Gainesville Texas); Local Chairperson Steve Groat (Local 329, Boone, Iowa); General Chairperson Matt Burkhart (GCA-341); SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan wait to deliver their testimony before the Surface Transportation Board on April 26, 2022.


Video recap of the damning testimony on rail carrier policies.

On April 26, SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and three members of the union shed light April 26 on the devastating effects Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) has had on customers and labor alike before the Surface Transportation Board (STB).

Their testimony came on the first day of STB’s hearing on “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service” convened in Washington, D.C.

“As professionals, it’s painful to watch our shippers get bad service or no service at all, much higher rates, destroyed product and equipment, and in some cases having to resort to shipping by truck whenever possible,” President Ferguson said. “I want to make our voice heard that we stand with the shippers who want our professional service to keep the supply chain open and keep this country’s economy moving.”

President Ferguson’s testimony will begin immediately upon clicking the image.

President Ferguson referred back to the “safest and most productive era” of railroading years ago with more service flexibility, proper maintenance and full extra boards that has now been sacrificed for the higher stock prices sought by Wall Street investors through the implementation of PSR.

“Thousands of men and women have been laid off with reckless abandon while no consideration has been given to the service that has ultimately been forsaken,” he said. “All that is known to us and our members at this point is that the railroads are dead set on achieving the lowest operating ratio attainable at any cost.”

“Railroading, once revered as one of the most-coveted blue-collar jobs in the world, is now hemorrhaging employees at unprecedented rates because of the abusive work environments PSR has created. Truth is, employees are leaving the industry faster than the railroads can hire.”

He referenced the “Hi-Viz” attendance policy that BNSF implemented in February several times, stated that its implementation has led to the departure of 1,000 workers who were forced to choose between trying to attain enough sleep to safely work their next shift or try to spend limited time with family for a undervalued employee that often has only one day off a month.

“Now, because of PSR, two choices exist for rail labor: Work or be fired,” President Ferguson said.

Brother Burkart’s testimony will begin immediately upon clicking the image.

General Chairperson Matt Burkhart (GCA-341), a fourth-generation railroad worker, yardmaster and member of Local 1975 (Kansas City, Mo.), testified that the relative simplicity of railroading over its nearly two centuries in the United States is being violated.

“It takes three things to railroad: Power, crew and rail. That’s it. Something to pull it, somebody to move it and something to run on,” said Burkhart, a former member of management. “You give us those three things and we can run all day long. We’re not running all day long right now.”

Burkhart mentioned the lengthy trains PSR has brought, many which exceed 10,000 feet when yards and sidings were made to accommodate World War II-era lengths of 3,000 feet. Not only does it take more moves to build or put a train away, it also takes more time, thus burning through the crew base.

Brother Burkhart also brought to light our equipment, including the hand-held radios supplied to our members, were not made to accommodate these types of train lengths either, stating that, “the radios do not work with the longer trains, hampering the crew’s ability to communicate when inspecting larger trains” he said.

“It just doesn’t make sense, it’s perpetuating manpower issues, it’s dangerous, and it’s not servicing our customers. All of it’s bad,” Burkart said.

And, lastly, BNSF, contrary to belief, has implemented PSR and has imposed its own data-driven metrics based on reducing resources and headcount for years, Burkart said.

He offered a pair of simple solutions looking back a decade and a half:

“It takes planning. It takes common sense,” Burkart said. “Two things can be legislated today: a maximum of 8,000 foot on trains. We don’t need these three-mile-long monsters running around. We need to disincentivize any reason to ever store a locomotive. In Donley Creek we have five miles of engines stored. There’s no reason for a train to sit without power.”

Brother Groat’s testimony will appear immediately upon clicking the image.

Also testifying was Local Chairperson Steve Groat (Local 329 — Boone, Iowa), a Union Pacific engineer, who mentioned the slower velocity caused by inadequate track maintenance, derailments and mechanical failures caused, in part, by long trains.

“Since the increase in train lengths, I’ve noticed more hard wear,” he said — broken cars split in half, drawbars and knuckles being left on the ground. “These train lengths increase the in-train force that stresses the components that don’t normally fail.”

Travel times for trains also have increased and locomotive use hasn’t been efficient, Groat told the board.

“This is like hooking up a 28-foot camper to a Toyota Prius and trying to drive to Colorado,” he said. “At what time do you expect the engine to fail or a component of the locomotive to fail?”

Brother Bond’s testimony will appear immediately upon clicking the image.

Local Chairperson Chris Bond (Local 513 — Gainesville, Texas), an engineer, spoke about BNSF’s throttle and power limitations that had been rescinded April 15 after the STB hearing had been announced.

“The carrier has put profit over everything,” Bond said. “Over customer service, over employees, even over safety.”

Hi-Viz also has caused an employee exodus and a personnel shortage at the carrier when there wasn’t one before, Bond said.

“This new policy has employees resigning in record numbers. I have several employees who are facing discipline and possible dismissal right now,” he said, including a single mother who has staggered custody of her child, now facing potential termination as a result of Hi-Viz.

“With BNSF losing people because of resignations and terminations, they’ve attempted to recall furloughed employees that are hearing of the current work environment and choosing not to return,” Bond said. “The new conductor trainees who are hiring on are quitting almost right away.”

The testimony from SMART-TD was preceded by Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Greg Regan, who recently detailed PSR-related meltdowns that have adversely affected shippers.

“The workers represented by TTD-affiliated unions have been sounding the alarm on the state of the freight-rail industry for years,” he said. “It’s deeply unfortunate but completely predictable that we would find ourselves here today as both railroad employees and customers sit before you to express a shared simple fact — that today’s freight-rail network is not working for anyone other than railroad investors.”

Regan reminded STB members that Class I railroads shrank their workforce well before the pandemic by 29 percent over the last six years — about 45,000 jobs and were making the system less flexible by storing equipment.

“The elimination of jobs across all crafts of the freight rail network has undoubtedly contributed to operational breakdowns and service degradation, including the ability to operate, inspect, maintain and repair every component of a railroad.”

He mentioned service disruptions experienced by customers of BNSF, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern in recent months.

“For as long as these railroads continue along their current path, these meltdowns and service degradations will continue,” Regan said.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Vice President Mark L. Wallace also testified on behalf of labor.

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 Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson released the following statement on July 22, 2022, regarding the commencement of the Presidential Emergency Board:

Brothers and Sisters —

At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24, 2022, Presidential Emergency Board 250 will convene in Washington, D.C. and proceed through Friday, July 29th, as the next step in the Railway Labor Act process.

We anticipate a fair and thorough series of hearings before the board, which consists of three qualified members. SMART-TD and the other rail labor organizations are prepared to present our best case to get a contract workers can be proud of after serving the nation through a pandemic and a supply-chain crisis. Carriers have enjoyed record and increasing profits through the hard work of unionized labor. This PEB gives us an opportunity to show the evidence that our toil should be rewarded.

Out of mutual respect for the process taking place, there will be no updates on the hearings, which will consist of daily sessions lasting anywhere from 10 to 12 hours, from either labor or the carriers once they begin. Until labor and the carriers have made their cases, SMART-TD will respect the authority of the PEB and comments will be reserved until after the PEB has released its recommendations.

That being said, the continued outreach and show of solidarity by not only SMART-TD members, but all of rail labor continues to fuel and motivate labor leaders through this arduous process. The silence need not extend to you. Any and all support is encouraged, seen and appreciated whether from rail workers, other branches of organized labor or from the public. Rail labor earlier this week received a letter of support from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in which President Willie Adams and Vice President Bobby Olvera Jr. pledged solidarity to our organizations. We thank them for voicing their support and express our highest gratitude to our ILWU brothers and sisters.

Let’s continue the momentum as we move ahead!

In solidarity,

Jeremy R. Ferguson

President, SMART Transportation Division

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson’s testimony before the House rail subcommittee: June 14, 2022.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson told members of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials June 14 that freight railroads’ unchecked lust for profits is placing the safety of workers and the public at risk while causing further disruption to the nation’s transportation system.

In this photo courtesy National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes, SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson prepares to testify June 14 before the U.S. House Rail, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

“The rail carriers are hell-bent on risking further injury to their employees as well as the American public and supply chain infrastructure by reducing or eliminating altogether the two crew members that control train movement in the cab of the locomotive,” President Ferguson said after detailing the accidents and injuries suffered by members in the period after he assumed leadership of the union. “Safety is not, nor should it ever be, negotiable.

“I assure you, accidents are occurring on short lines and yard jobs that operate with less than a two-person crew, but the rates and/or trends cannot be identified because the information is not captured,” he said. “In other words, the railroads have no idea what would happen if they reduced crew size, but it’s a gamble they’re willing to take for the sake of satisfying their insatiable appetite of improving their companies’ bottom line.”

Among the perils — a “steady, consistent and frightening trend” of railroads during their adoption of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) of chopping their workforce, lengthening trains and focusing solely on profits at the cost of safety and service, Ferguson said. As a result, institutional knowledge also is walking out the door, leaving what was once “the premier blue-collar job” in the country struggling to find workers thanks to carriers’ adversarial measures toward employees, such as BNSF’s“Hi-Viz” attendance policy.

Statistics show that from 2020 to 2021 accidents and employee injuries both increased, Ferguson said. PSR’s penchant for long trains also has made workers’ jobs more difficult and less safe — increasing in-train forces that complicate train operations and exceeding the working range of hand-held radios. Communities are not immune from the effects as well — blocked crossings have disrupted local traffic patterns and hampered emergency services.

“Make no mistake, it’s railroad greed that I believe that has caused this committee to call us to be here today,” President Ferguson said. “I’m on record saying that the railroad industry is going to end up like Boeing. It’s not just the accidents that I’m referring to. It’s the lack of oversight and concern for the railroads’ constant capitulation to outside pressures that are creating the biggest dangers.

“I am not sounding the alarm here. I am screaming into the bullhorn for help,” he said. “If left unchecked, it’s my members who will end up maimed or killed, and it is America’s supply chain that will end up collapsed.”

Of note, in the panel featuring President Ferguson and other members of rail labor, only a single Republican had a question for the panel President Ferguson was on. It was not directed toward a labor representative.

Others testifying in the first panel Tuesday included FRA Administrator Amit Bose, who spoke on rail worker fatigue, long trains and the effects of PSR on Class I operations, and National Transportation Safety Board Member Thomas Chapman.

Additional witnesses on President Ferguson’s panel included Roy L. Morrison of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division; Don Grissom of Brotherhood of Railway Carmen Division; TCU/IAM; transportation consultant Grady C. Cothen, Jr.; Nathan Bachman of Loram Technologies; and Norfolk Southern COO Cindy Sanborn who also represented the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

View video of the hearing.

Read President Ferguson’s full testimony

Pictured in the Governor’s office, left to right: Senator Carolyn McGinn (R); Mike Scheerer, LR Local 94; Troy Fansher, Local 1503; Governor Kelly (seated); Nick Davis, Local 527; Ty Dragoo, SLD Kansas; Chad Henton, ASLD Kansas; Kyle Brooks, Local 1503


In late April, members of the SMART Transportation Division joined Kansas legislators and Governor Laura Kelly at the state capitol in Topeka, where Governor Kelly officially proclaimed April 28th “A Day of Honor and Remembrance for Railroad Workers” in the state of Kansas.

Along with witnessing Kelly sign the proclamation, Mike Scheerer of LR Local 94 (Kansas City), Troy Fansher of Local 1503 (Marysville), Nick Davis of Local 527 (Coffeyville), Kansas State Legislative Director (SLD) Ty Dragoo, Alternate SLD Chad Henton and Kyle Brooks of Local 1503 joined the governor to discuss the vital role railroaders play in the state and in the nation at-large – as well as honor, recognize and remember the ultimate sacrifice some railroaders have made.

“Today reflects our ongoing relationship with Kansas’ government and the recognition that rail labor is vital to the state, and that we are appreciated,” Dragoo said. “It is a proud day for Kansas’ SMART Legislative Board.”

Dragoo also noted that Governor Kelly has been a steadfast champion of SMART TD members and all of rail labor throughout her time in state government. “She has proposed the two-person crew regulation and has been a steadfast wall of support when legislation is directed to harm our jobs,” he explained. “She has been there on every issue; she includes us in policy discussions, and we always have a seat in Kansas.”

The text of the proclamation is below:

WHEREAS, since the first railroad was chartered to carry freight and passengers in the United States in 1827, this nation’s railroads have been vital to the national economy and defense; and

WHEREAS, it is estimated that each American freight rail job supports 9 jobs elsewhere in the U.S. economy; and

WHEREAS, over one-fourth of all freight movement in ton-miles annually in this country occurs by rail, including many of the goods upon which Kansas residents and businesses rely; and

WHEREAS, thousands of passengers arrive, depart, and travel through Kansas on Amtrak passenger trains annually; and

WHEREAS, the rail lines crossing Kansas provide a vital transcontinental link facilitating the movement of this freight and these passengers; and

WHEREAS, the safe and efficient movement of the trains transporting this freight and these passengers
through Kansas is due foremost to the dedication, professionalism, and knowledge of those employees who are directly involved in train movements, including Train and Crew Dispatchers, Maintenance of Way personnel, Signal Maintainers, Mechanical personnel, and fully staffed two-person Train crews;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, LAURA KELLY, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF KANSAS, do hereby proclaim the day
of April 28, 2022, as

A DAY IN HONOR OF RAILROAD WORKERS.

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.

To receive text messages and the latest alerts regarding the BNSF Hi-Viz policy, please text HiViz to 67336.

Today the judge considering the case between BNSF and the SMART-TD and BLET unions over the carrier’s new “Hi-Viz” attendance policy ruled that the dispute was “minor” under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act (RLA).

What does this mean?

It means that any further action to pursue a strike would be illegal, exposing the unions and their members to serious legal attacks as well as carrier discipline up to and including dismissal. But this is only the first round in our fight against the Hi-Viz policy. In the coming days, the unions will determine if the best course of action is to appeal today’s decision, or to move swiftly to arbitrate the policy before it can be used to terminate any employees. An arbitrator can strike down the policy. If that path is chosen, the unions will move swiftly to make their case there instead of in the courtroom or on the picket lines.

Rest assured that we are all infuriated. One of the largest and richest corporations in America has been given a free pass to continue forcing its employees to work even when they or their families are sick, and when they are fatigued beyond the point of being able to work safely. BNSF is essentially thumbing its nose at the employees who make them billions of dollars in revenue.

SMART-TD and BLET are considering all legal possibilities to continue to challenge BNSF and its anti-worker, anti-family and unsafe attendance policy. In the coming weeks, the unions’ options are:

  • ​Appeal the District Court decision, but delay arbitration of the policy by doing so.
  • Aggressively pursue arbitration to challenge every possible aspect of the “Hi-Viz” policy. This is where the actual impact of the policy will become crucial to the unions’ case.
  • Demand that state and federal lawmakers pass laws which would protect employees from retaliation for laying off for legitimate reasons.
  • Work with federal agencies to end draconian attendance policies on ALL railroad carriers — not just BNSF.
  • Call on Congress to amend the RLA to give rail workers freedom to fight back against the carriers’ abuse.

What can you do?

— Contact your General Chairperson. Your union needs to be able to explain how and why this attendance policy affects real workers. Examples of how this policy could affect you and your family, or how it did affect you after February 1 should be shared with your General Chairperson. These will empower your union to make its best case possible in arbitration.

— Contact your Congresspeople and Senators. Click here to find your members of Congress and demand that they hear the concerns of the rail workers who are the backbone of this nation’s supply chain​ and that they should back the people who do the work rather than the financial overlords who have implemented these draconian policies.

— Sign up for action alerts. Our strength is in our collective voice. Action alerts from your union will send you to petitions to sign, elected officials to email, and social media posts to share. Text HiViz to 67336 for text alerts or click here to sign up for emails. ​We are all angry, but we need to channel that anger into effective and legal action. Both the SMART-TD and the BLET will make sure that members are informed, educated, and empowered, just as rail unions have done in this country for more than a century.

If you have questions, do not hesitate to reach out to your union leadership.

In solidarity,

Jeremy Ferguson and Dennis Pierce
President, SMART-TD and National President, BLET