Rail & Labor News from RWU

Weekly Digest Number 35 - August 30th, 2022

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Welcome to the RWU Rail & Labor News! This news bulletin is produced and emailed out each Tuesday morning. We hope you find each week's news and information useful. If so, please share with co-workers, friends, and colleagues. If you like, you can sign them up to get all the news from RWU HERE. Or forward them the link. Note: If you read over this news bulletin each week, you will be sure to never miss the important news of what is going on in the railroad world from a worker's perspective!

(Editor's Note: The discontent is building. In this article from Freightwaves, she points out the reasons for the dissatisfaction., and quotes liberally from the RWU Special Bulletin from 8/18/22.)

Rail Union Groups Say Presidential Emergency Board Recommendations Don’t Go Far Enough

‘Truthfully, your union negotiators feel a level of disappointment with the PEB’s recommendations falling short on many of our requests’

Rail union members say the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) “simply chose to kick the can down the road” rather than issue concrete recommendations on how to resolve union and freight railroad contract negotiations. 

The board, appointed by President Joe Biden to oversee stalled labor talks, presented the White House and stakeholders a 124-page report last week listing recommendations on how the railroads and unions can work toward a new labor agreement. The report’s guidance could be used to serve as a foundation for a labor contract between the freight railroads and their unions.

While the Association of American Railroads and the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC) — the group responsible for negotiating on behalf of the Class I railroads — last week issued statements on PEB’s proposed wage increases, union representatives have been more cautious in their responses.

Many union members had been hoping that the recommendations would lean more toward their requested wage increases and address working conditions, including attendance policies, more definitively. But instead, PEB’s recommendations tell the unions to go back to the bargaining table or withdraw the union proposals on matters related to working conditions or establishing a work-life balance, according to Railroad Workers United (RWU), an interunion caucus made up of members representing all crafts.

As a result, union leaders are caught between needing contract talks to progress in order to reach an actual contract and knowing that rank-and-file membership may not accept all the recommendations. The unions are expected to work with members to interpret PEB’s recommendations.

“On most of the important and pressing quality of work-life issues — the ones that probably matter the most in terms of job satisfaction, recruitment and retention of railroad workers — the PEB simply chose to kick the can down the road, remanding the carriers and the unions to reach an agreement, something the parties have not been able to do previously for two and a half years now,” RWU said. 

“On questions of attendance policies, work schedules, time off the job, predictability of train lineups, call times, vacations, holidays, sick time and more, the board would recommend that the ‘organization withdraw the proposal’ or ‘remand the matter to the parties to address.’” 


(Editor's Note: Brother Michael Paul Lindsey hits the nail on the head with this letter to the rail carriers last week.)

‘Dear National Carriers Conference Committee and AAR’: An Open Letter from a Rank & File Engineer

My name is Michael Paul Lindsey II. I am a 17-year employee of Union Pacific in Pocatello, Idaho. I would like to humbly contribute my opinion on the recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board 250, and to also thank you for clarifying a few critical industry stances that employees and regulators will use when they inevitably bring your industry to heel in the upcoming months and years.

Your organizations seem to completely miss several much larger points that I intend to expose. This dispute has never been an issue of simply dollars and cents, or one that can be resolved by a financial bribe to labor in the correct percentage amount.

I could have read the entire PEB 250 report within 24 hours, but I selfishly chose to go to work instead. To encourage my selfish desire to work, my company has even imposed mandatory attendance standards to ensure that I can steal even more money from shareholders. To be logically consistent, this must be the reason for the attendance policy since we don’t actually contribute to the profits of the company. At least that is how I read page 32 of the PEB report, which stated that “investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor.”

In a further attempt to justify this blatant insult, your organizations stated further that we are adequately paid and “do not share in the downside risks if the operations are less profitable, and have no claim to share in the upside either.” In an attempt to verify this claim, I have to ask what in the world I was doing when I left my home in California at the request of the railroad. Traffic was slow in 2007 and my seniority was not good. However, the railroad was hurting for employees in Pocatello and enticed me to permanently give up my seniority in Roseville and move to Idaho. When I took this risk, I had never even been to the state of Idaho, let alone the city. When I arrived at the beautiful red brick depot to serve the company, it was also my first view of the place that would become my permanent home. However, making such a leap of faith is not considered adequate risk, according to your statements to the PEB.


(Editor's Note: RWU is planning on doing more surveys like this in the future in order to better understand where railroad workers are coming from so we can be more effective. As importantly, workers need to know what their fellow workers are thinking, what's popular, what's unpopular, and what direction we need to move in on a myriad of issues. Please respond to RWU surveys when you see them online. Thanks.)

RWU Surveys the Rank & File on PEB #250

Last Thursday, RWU Launched a survey, asking railroad workers for a few basic thoughts on the recently released PEB recommendations. As of Monday 8/29/22 3,137 responses have been submitted, which represents a sizable random sample of the 120,000 or so rail workers who are party to national negotiations. Look for a full report of the results this week, probably August 30th.

(Editor's Note: Three rail unions - all part of the Machinists union - have broken ranks from the United Rail Unions and have reached Tentative Agreements with the rail carriers. This does not bode well for the grand coalition of rail labor. It remains to be seen however if the membership shares the views of the union officials.

Railroads Reach Tentative Agreements With Three Unions

Railroads have reached tentative agreements with three unions as the prospect of a September strike looms. The National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the freight railroads in national collective bargaining, on Monday afternoon said it has reached tentative deals with the Transportation Communications Union/IAMBrotherhood of Railway Carmen, and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Together, these unions represent more than 15,000 rail employees. The other unions involved in negotiations represent 100,000 employees, including engineers and conductors.

The tentative agreements are the first to be reached since the Presidential Emergency Board issued settlement recommendations on Aug. 16. The tentative agreements implement the PEB’s recommendations, which include a 24% compounded wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024 — with a 14.1%wage increase effective immediately — and five annual $1,000 lump sum payments.

A portion of the wage increases and lump sum payments are retroactive and will be paid upon ratification of the agreements by the unions’ membership.

The NCCC said it looked forward to additional discussions with the unions that have not yet reached tentative agreements and will continue seeking voluntary agreements based on the PEB’s recommendations.


(Editor's Note: The caucus group inside of the BMWED known as the "Rank and File United" has taken an unequivocal position against the PEB #250 recommendations.)

BMWED "Rank & File United" Caucus Responds to PEB 250

We appreciate the hard work the BMWED and the Rail Labor coalition has put into getting us this far. While they achieved historical recommendations from the PEB, any concessions like those proposed with our healthcare are not acceptable in a time of mass inflation, extreme record profits by the railroads, and a extremely tight labor market.

After 3 years in a pandemic where we sacrificed while working 24/7/365 outside in the elements with no sick days, we are not willingly conceding in healthcare. 

We reject the concept that you have to give to get. 

We give our Labor, our time, and our health to make sure these railroads keep America running and in return we deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labor. 


BLET and SMART-TD Issue Update on PEB 250 recommendations 8/27/22 

(Editor's Note: Small alternative media outlets that are often pro-labor and pro-worker are seeking out rank & file rail workers to talk about what is going on in the industry. All RWU members - and all rail workers - are encouraged to use this unique opportunity to reach the general public - and each other.)

RWU Organizer Ron Kaminkow Speaks with Joran Charitin and "Status Coup News"

In Mid-August, RWU Organizer Ron Kaminkow spoke with Jordan Charitin, host of the Podcast know as "Status Coup" about the current crisis in freight rail in the U.S., the PEB, and the prospects for a strike this Fall. Click on the link below to be re-directed to the You Tube link.

Watch/Listen to the Podcast Here

(Editor's Note: For many of you freight railroaders who are ready to throw in the towel with your Class One freight employment, give this some consideration. Countless engineers and more recently trainmen have left UP, BNSF, and the rest for a better work environment and better working conditions and quality of life at Amtrak. While this article makes no mention of it, Amtrak is hiring engineers and trainmen.)

Amtrak Seeks Thousands of New Employees

Amtrak last week announced it has more than 4,000 employment positions open across several disciplines.

The national intercity passenger railroad is recruiting employees to work in project management, finance, technology, onboard services, electrical and customer service. More than 54 hiring events have been scheduled in fiscal-year 2023, Amtrak officials said in a press release.

Amtrak's starting pay rate for all onboard service crafts is $21 per hour. On the mechanical side, journeyman electricians start at $34.07 per hour. Amtrak offers hiring bonuses and relocation packages to fill critical positions.

In addition to the 4,000 regular, full-time positions, the railroad is also seeking to fill openings for paid internships and co-ops for undergrad and graduate students, as well as apprenticeship programs for those looking for entry-level, skilled-labor learning opportunities, Amtrak officials said.


Safety Board Calls on Canadian Rail Industry to Speed up ATC Implementation

An investigation into a 2019 collision between two CN trains has prompted the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) to call for all major Canadian railroads to step up implementation of physical fail-safe train controls on the nation’s key rail routes and high-speed rail corridors.

The Canadian rail industry must act "more quickly" to implement a form of automated or enhanced train control system on key rail routes to improve rail safety and "avoid future rail disasters," said TSB Chair Kathy Fox in a press release. Fox noted that the U.S. rail industry — including the U.S. operations of CN and Canadian Pacific — has fully implemented positive train control.

Moreover, the TSB is calling on Transport Canada to require Canadian railroads to develop and implement formal crew resource management (CRM) training as part of qualification training for railroad-operating employees.

"The aviation and marine industries experienced significant safety benefits with the introduction of CRM," said Fox. "This type of training could provide additional tools and strategies to train crews to mitigate inevitable human errors, providing significant safety benefits in the rail industry."

Fox and the TSB made the recommendations following the board’s investigation into a collision between CN trains that occurred in January 2019 near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. The investigators' report can be read here.


TSB Issues Safety Recommendations Following 2019 CN Investigation
Safety Board Calls for PTC Style System for Canada

STB Concerned Service Troubles Could Impact Grain Harvest Season

In light of recent freight-rail service problems, the Surface Transportation Board is expressing concern about the Class Is' ability to meet grain shipping demand during the upcoming harvest season.

In an Aug. 18 letter to Class I executives, the board said it is looking forward to hearing from them at the Aug. 25 meeting of the National Grain Car Council in Kansas City, Missouri. Created in 1994, the council provides information on current and emerging issues related to the transportation of grain by rail, as well as marketplace conditions affecting supply and demand for U.S. grain. The council’s members include representatives of the Class Is, large and small grain shippers, short lines and the private rail-car industry.

The council advises the board on "prevailing and operating conditions in the rail industry, as well as the railroads’ preparedness" to meet demand, the STB's letter states.

"The board is particularly interested in your reports related to your preparedness to meet the demands of the fall harvest as it begins to ramp up in September and extends through the turn of the year," the letter states. "In light of current challenges affecting the four largest Class I railroads, the board is concerned about the Class I railroads' ability to meet grain shipping needs and is highly focused on whether railroads will have sufficient crew, locomotive, equipment and capacity resources along key corridors supporting domestic and international markets."

In addition to hearing from the Class Is, the board is "very interested in the views of NGCC's shipper, short line and rail-car industry members on these issues," STB members wrote.

The letter, which can be read here, was sent to executives at BNSF Railway Co., Canadian Pacific, CN, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern Railway and Union Pacific Railroad.


Read the Letter from the STB to Executves of the Class One Carriers

(Editor's Note: This article really should be titled with the subtitle, and the subtitle should be the title, if you know what I mean. For those of us who work out on the property, for those of us who have been through post-merger "meltdowns," we gotta believe the Local Chairman.)

CSX Refutes Union Allegations of Problems at Selkirk Yard

Local chairman tells federal regulators key hub near Albany, N.Y., is congested amid crew shortages and operational changes

WASHINGTON — CSX Transportation is pushing back against allegations a local union official has made regarding operations and safety at the railroad’s hump yard in Selkirk, N.Y.

A combination of layoffs, crew shortages, changes to remote-control switching jobs, and CSX’s takeover of New England regional Pan Am Railways has created congestion at the yard near Albany, SMART-TD Local Chairman Joshua Therrien wrote in an Aug. 22 letter to Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman.

“Down roughly 75 transportation employees (guesstimate) at the Selkirk terminal, CSXT has taken over the Pan Am railroad, Selkirk Yard is bursting at the seams, and we have 15 to 20 trains destined for Selkirk parked on the mainline anywhere between Buffalo, N.Y., and Philadelphia,” Therrien wrote.

CSX disputes this claim. “There are no trains tied down on the mainline between Buffalo and Selkirk or Philly and Selkirk,” CSX spokeswoman Cindy Schild said in an email on Wednesday. “There are six trains in Buffalo waiting for crews and one in Philly – but those are at crew-change locations, not parked in a siding somewhere on the mainline.”

In an email to Trains, Therrien says colleagues around the Northeast told him late last week that five trains were parked near North Bergen, N.J.; five near Philadelphia; three around Syracuse, N.Y.; and three outlawed near Selkirk.

CSX acknowledges that it is short of crews, partly because availability has dipped due to summer vacations. ...

... The average amount of time cars spend at Selkirk has been rising in recent weeks. Dwell was 50 hours last week, compared to 43.8 the week before single-person remote control switching jobs were introduced, and 35.6 hours in the third week of July. Railroads generally aim for cars to spend no more than 24 hours in a hump yard.

CSX reduced remote-control switching jobs from two-person crews to one person on Aug. 9, Therrien says. “Since then, Selkirk employees have been harassed, intimidated, and bullied into accomplishing more work with half of the crew,” he wrote.

Therrien also claimed that CSX is violating its own safety rules as well as Federal Railroad Administration regulations.


(Editor's Note:  This statement below is from the Chiefs at DOT and FRA. Rail workers and our unions have a lot to gain if/when this passenger train expansion comes to fruition. We must increase our activity and support of this positive development.)

Americans are Ready for High-Quality Passenger Rail

America should always lead the way in technology and infrastructure — and that means Americans shouldn’t have to look abroad to see world-class passenger rail. But for far too long, our country has struggled to maintain our existing railways, let alone prepare for the future.

That’s changing now, as we move with urgency to put the resources made available in President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to work.

Last week, we announced grants to modernize passenger rail service in eight states. That includes advancing projects to replace bridges in Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York that are still used today and are more than 100 years old. Millions of Americans count on routes that include these bridges, and the investments now will mean fewer delays.

These grants will also help update Chicago’s Union Station, which was built nearly a century ago, creating a better experience for passengers traveling through the busiest station in the Midwest and the fourth-busiest Amtrak station in the nation.

These awards will also modernize rail infrastructure in California, Michigan, and Massachusetts — and this investment is just the beginning.

Using funds from the infrastructure package, we are reversing a half-century of underinvestment in our rail network, building a better America that will serve today’s travelers and generations to come. To do this, we will invest strategically and follow a clear plan for the progress ahead.


A Larger Vision To Connect Los Angeles to Las Vegas Is Shaping Up
Passenger rail advocates gather in Billings to push for new Montana route

(Editor's Note: Definitely good news... but it is gonna take a bit more than this to get things sorted out. And many of these new employees are executive, administrative, and "professionals." With all due respect, they are not the folks who are going get the railroad running smoothly again)

Class Is Report Slight Uptick in July Employment Levels

Class Is employed 116,407 emples in the United States as of mid-July, which represents a 0.13% increase compared with June employment levels and a 0.64% bump from July 2021 levels, according to Surface Transportation Board data.

Three out of six employment categories logged month-to-month increases. They were executives, officials and staff assistants, up 0.97% to 7,838 employees; professional and administrative, up 0.47% to 9,905; and transportation (train and engine), up 0.36% to 48,252.

The three categories that logged decreases were maintenance of equipment and stores, down 0.33% to 17,324 employees; maintenance of way and structures, down 0.26% to 28,417; and transportation (other than train and engine), down 0.09% to 4,671.

Year over year, two categories posted increases: executives, officials and staff assistants, up 7.06%; and transportation (train and engine), up 1.59%. The following categories posted decreases: professional and administrative, down 1.8%; transportation (other than train and engine), down 1.27%; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 1.11%; and maintenance of way and structures, down 0.34%.


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