Updated: January 25, 9:20 a.m. MST
By Justin Franz
CLEVELAND — Negotiations between a coalition of railroad labor unions and America’s Class I railroads have fallen apart after two years of talks. On Monday, the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition — a group of 10 unions representing more than 100,000 railroaders — announced that they would be asking the National Mediation Board for help dealing with the railroads.
National labor talks are supposed to take place every five years and are governed by the Railway Labor Act, a 95-year-old law meant to help avoid railroad strikes that would cripple the economy. The Coordinated Bargaining Coalition represents 10 unions and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee represents BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and U.S. roads owned by Canadian National. The current round of talks, which began in late 2019, were expected to be tense as the two sides grappled with major issues like crew size and the impacts of Precision Scheduled Railroading. The last round of talks lasted three years. If the two sides cannot come to terms, federal mediators get involved.
In a statement to the media, the unions accused the railroads of working in bad faith and not making realistic offers that the leadership can actually take to members.
“After carrying our nation through the pandemic, and as the carriers have posted record-breaking profit margins due to their implementation of so-called ‘Precision Scheduled Railroading’ practices, our members have earned, and rightfully expect a substantial contract settlement that recognizes the sacrifices they and their families make each day,” the unions wrote. “Instead, the Carriers continue to push proposals that fail to even catch up to the cost of living. From the beginning of this round of negotiations, the CBC has adamantly refused to accept any type of concession agreement. Instead, the railroads continue to demand extreme changes to our members’ current benefits and attempt to unilaterally impose work rule changes that would further erode our members’ already taxed standard of living.”
The freight railroads countered that they were negotiating in good faith, but they also welcomed federal mediators.
“From the outset, the railroads have maintained that this bargaining round presents a unique opportunity for the parties to work together and reach voluntary agreements that address challenges and opportunities facing the freight rail industry for the benefit of all stakeholders, including rail employees,” said Brendan Branon, chairman of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee. “The railroads believe in the collective bargaining process and will continue negotiating in good faith to reach voluntary agreements with the CBC unions. In that regard, the railroads welcome the NMB’s assistance and look forward to their discussions with the CBC and the NMB.”