Railroad plan calls for 24% pay rises, but workers wary

OMAHA, Neb. — The major freight railroads said they are ready to negotiate a new deal with their workers based on a presidential report calling for 24% wage increases, but the 12 unions involved in the stalled talks over 115,000 workers have yet to agree. never commented on the recommendations.

The group representing BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX and other railroads in the talks said Wednesday, although the Presidential Emergency Board report appointed by Joe Biden last month calls for higher increases than the companies had suggested they wanted to reach an agreement to avoid a strike.

“It is in the interest of all stakeholders — including customers, employees and the public — that the railroads and railroad labor organizations resolve this dispute and avoid service interruptions,” said the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents the railroads.

Both sides have 30 days to negotiate a new contract before federal law allows a strike or lockout, but even if they can’t reach an agreement, Congress is likely to step in to prevent a strike that would disrupt the flow of goods in all sectors of the economy. would disturb the country. the economy.

The unions were still reviewing the 124-page report on Wednesday – a day after it was published – and did not immediately comment on the details. But individual railroad workers who commented on the report on Twitter said it didn’t do enough to allay concerns about restrictive attendance policies that make it difficult to take days off and demand working conditions after thousands of jobs have been cut in recent years. .

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“It is clear that academically politically motivated labor brokers are out of touch with the realities of today’s railroad working conditions. They prefer capital over the needs of workers and our nation,” Union Pacific engineer Ross Grooters said on Twitter. Grooters also serves on the city council in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines.

Rail workers expect a new contract to bring significant raises to combat rising inflation after staying on the job throughout the pandemic, but many say they are tired of being essentially available 24-7 and want working conditions to improve . The major freight railroads have eliminated nearly a third of their workers — some 45,000 jobs — in the past six years as they overhauled their operations to run fewer, longer trains, so they say they need fewer locomotives and workers to run all the trains. to handle freight.

In addition to disagreements over wages and benefits, unions have strongly opposed railway proposals to reduce train crews from two to one. A new proposed federal rule that would require two-person crews in most cases should make it harder to do that, but railroads continue to push for the change in negotiations. The unions say it’s a security issue, not just a job.

Current contract talks have been going on for more than two years without an agreement and railway workers have not had a pay rise since 2019. The new report released this week by a panel of arbitrators also calls on employees to receive five $1,000 bonuses each year from the five-year deal, but it suggests that employees could carry a larger portion of their health insurance, which is a would offset part of the increases.

But the railroads said the recommended raises and bonuses would result in average payouts of $11,000 to railroad workers for wage arrears dating back to 2020. The proposed terms would also increase railroad workers’ average wages to about $110,000 by the end of the five-year deal. .

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The head of the Association of American Railroads trade group, Ian Jefferies, said the recommended contract would deliver “the largest overall pay increase in nearly 40 years.”

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