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Norfolk Southern grants sick time to all employees amid union negotiations.

Norfolk Southern grants sick time to all employees amid union negotiations.

Norfolk Southern has become the first major freight railroad to provide paid sick time to all its workers. Since the start of the year, nearly 65% of all rail workers have secured this basic benefit. All major freight railroads have said they are committed to resolving this issue, which almost led to a strike in last year’s bitter contract talks. However, most of these railroads, including CSX, Union Pacific, BNSF, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific Kansas City, are still negotiating with several of their unions. Union Pacific announced a deal that will provide paid sick leave to about 5,600 engineers in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union, thereby giving that railroad agreements with 12 of its 13 unions.

Most of the sick time deals, including the one that Norfolk Southern announced for yardmasters, provide four days of paid sick time and give workers the option to convert three days of personal leave time into sick days. Conductors and engineers operating trains have been getting five days of paid sick leave, with the option to convert two leave days into sick time. The Union Pacific deal follows that five-day model. All these deals offer up to seven days of paid sick time, and the railroads promised to pay workers for any unused sick time at the end of each year.

Last fall, the railroads refused to add paid sick time to the deal they had already been negotiating for several years, but they relented this year after intense pressure from the public, the Biden administration, and several key lawmakers, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Rail workers were forced to accept a five-year deal that provided 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses after Congress blocked their ability to strike due to fears of an economic catastrophe. However, that agreement did not address their quality-of-life concerns.

The engineers’ union stated that providing sick time to train crews can help ensure they aren’t fatigued while at the controls of a locomotive. Eddie Hall, National President of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said, “this agreement is really about health and safety… It’s not in our members’, the public’s, or the railroad’s best interest for engineers to be operating trains when they’re sick.” Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz said that these agreements show “the well-being and quality of life for all employees are critically important to us.”

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About 300 workers are covered by this latest Norfolk Southern agreement, and Jeremy Ferguson, President of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers union that represents Norfolk Southern yardmasters and conductors nationwide, praised the progress made. A separate larger agreement between SMART-TD and Norfolk Southern that also addresses schedule concerns for conductors was ratified on Friday. Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw said, “Following national labor negotiations, we committed to address quality of life issues for our craft railroaders. With today’s agreement, we make good on that promise.”

Although Norfolk Southern and other major railroads say that they have made progress, the Transportation Trades Department, the AFL-CIO labor coalition that includes all rail unions, has stated that much work remains to address workers’ concerns. “I think the railroads probably realize the only way this is going to go away is if they bargain in good faith. And, you know, so far it has yielded some decent results,” said Greg Regan, President of the TTD labor coalition.

© 2020 CANDOUR

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