More than three weeks after Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) No. 250 issued its recommendations on the stalled contract negotiations between 12 rail labor unions and the carriers, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB); and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Department (SMART-MD) have reached tentative agreements with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which represents most major railroads (and many smaller ones) in national collective bargaining.
The tentative agreements implement the PEB’s recommendations, which include a 24% 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. Portions of the wage increases and lump sum payments are retroactive and “will be paid out promptly upon ratification of the agreements by the unions’ membership,” NCCC reported on Sept. 11.
The 12* labor organizations at the bargaining table represent 125,000 unionized workers affected by the negotiations. In addition to BMWED (the third largest of the unions with 23,900 affected members), IBB and SMART-MD, the following have also inked tentative agreements with NCCC: the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA); the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); and the Transportation Communications Union (TCU, including its allied Brotherhood Railway Carmen).
Under the Railway Labor Act, the carriers and the unions that have not reached agreements remain in a “cooling off” period, according to NCCC, which noted that “[v]oluntary settlements with all unions would avert any potential disruptions to rail service after the cooling off period ends at 12:01 a.m. on September 16.”
“The NCCC would like to thank the [BMWED, IBB and SMART-MD] unions’ leadership teams for their professionalism and efforts during the bargaining process,” the Committee said on Sept. 11. “It is critical that the remaining unions promptly reach agreements that provide pay increases to employees and prevent rail service disruptions. The carriers are in active discussions with the remaining unions about finalizing agreements based on the PEB’s recommendation. However, the two operating craft unions, BLET [Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen] and SMART-TD [the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers], continue to maintain positions that were expressly rejected by the PEB.”
SMART-TD, with 37,400 affected members, and BLET, with 24,700 affected members, are the two largest unions at the bargaining table.
In a Sept. 11 online statement to members, BMWED National Division President Tony D. Cardwell wrote:
“I am proud to announce that the BMWED and the National Carriers Conference Committee have reached a tentative National Agreement for this round of National Negotiations.
“The tentative National Agreement contains general wage increases of 22% over the term of the agreement (24% when compounded), with retroactive pay (often referred to as “backpay”) for all straight time and overtime hours. The tentative agreement also includes five $1,000 annual service recognition bonus payments, $3,000 of the service recognition bonuses will be paid along with retroactive pay upon ratification of the agreement, with two additional $1,000 service recognition bonus payments in 2023 and 2024. Additionally, the tentative agreement provides for an additional paid day off that can be used as a personal day, vacation day or on the employee’s birthday.
“The tentative National Agreement also contains National Travel Allowances and Away From Home Expenses improvements that provide for reimbursement for all miles traveled for work at the IRS business rate (currently $.625 per mile). Reimbursement will also include any tolls necessary for travel, a daily per diem equal to the Standard GSA CONUS per diem rate (currently $59 for work days and $44.25 on travel days) and lodging reimbursement for a single occupancy motel/hotel room up to the GSA Standard CONUS lodging rate (currently $98 per night plus taxes) for nights when the carrier does not provide lodging. The tentative National Agreement also requires carrier-provided single occupancy motel/hotel rooms, and eliminates the use of camp cars or carrier-provided trailers for lodging except in limited emergency circumstances. Also, the tentative National Agreement ends the railroad’s practice of not reimbursing employees the cost to move their personal vehicle during worksite changes, midweek moves, etc. The General Chairpersons are negotiating with each respective railroad to determine whether they desire to elect the new National Travel Allowances and Away From Home Expenses structure, maintain the existing arrangements and structure on the specific railroad property, or negotiate an alternative arrangement. Absent an agreement to retain current arrangements or negotiation of alternative arrangements the National Agreement concerning travel allowances and away from home expenses will apply.
“The tentative national agreement also provides for improvements to health and welfare benefits, including a substantial increase to hearing aid benefits and coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of Autism without age limitations. The Agreement does not have any changes in copays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums: they remain the same. The Agreement does increase the employee monthly-cost share for health and welfare benefits (currently $228.89 per Employee per month), setting it at 15% of the monthly payment rate for healthcare benefits. The PEB effectively reset the cost share rate to the level it had been at the start of the last two national agreements (because of health care cost inflation the employee share had dropped to 12%). However, the cost increases are more than offset by the service recognition bonuses alone, and there is an opportunity to drive down health and welfare plan costs through rebidding the National Health and Welfare Plan.
“I believe that the tentative agreement will substantially improve all BMWED Members wages and working conditions, and it will put an end to the 65 year battle to bring BMWED Members travel allowances and away from home expenses to a rationally based structure. This structure automatically adjusts itself (based on the changes to the IRS business mileage rate, and GSA Standard CONUS Lodging and Meal and Incidental Allowance Per Diems) that more appropriately covers the costs to work away from home. But BMWED Members are ultimately the individuals that must decide if they accept or reject the terms of the tentative agreement. BMWED Members will get the opportunity to cast their vote in favor or against the Tentative National Agreement in the days ahead. Further information regarding will be forthcoming as we work with the American Arbitration Association to coordinate Membership voting.
“There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the PEB’s recommendations and this bargaining round in general, and there has been a lot of confusing information regarding the status of National Negotiations. The BMWED has focused our efforts on understanding the PEB’s recommendations and working towards reaching a tentative agreement so that we could end the speculation and provide the Members with facts. We will be posting the tentative National Agreement later today, and over the next several days, BMWED National Division will provide clear and concise information explaining the tentative National Agreement. This information will be placed on our webpage, www.bmwed.org and the BMWED Facebook Page. We will be sending text and emails as well. Zoom Town Halls will be scheduled and held, with dates to be announced in the coming days.
“Please take the time to review the information about the tentative National Agreement as it becomes available to begin familiarizing yourself with it so that you will be prepared to promptly cast your vote in the days ahead. Again, further information will be forthcoming and please continue to review our BMWED webpage and the BMWED Facebook page for more information.”
“SMART’s Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (Mechanical Department or MD) reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which includes the highest wage increases ever achieved in national freight rail bargaining. The tentative agreement provides our members with a 24% general compounded wage increase over five years. In addition, members would receive five annual service recognition payments of $1,000. Upon ratification, our members, including our retired and deceased members, will receive full retroactive pay consisting of the wage increases and service recognition payments.
“Furthermore, the tentative agreement will provide an additional paid day off that can be used as either a personal leave day, a vacation day or on the employee’s birthday. Our healthcare benefits were enhanced to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder and an increase in hearing aid benefits. There are no work rule changes or cuts to our healthcare benefits. The tentative agreement also includes a ‘Me Too’ provision, where if another union reaches an agreement that provides more economic value, we can receive that same value in our agreement. The tentative agreement was reached based on the recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board 250.
“SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. stated, ‘After nearly three years of difficult and protracted negotiations with the carriers, I’m very pleased that our Mechanical Department members are receiving the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national bargaining. Contrary to what the carriers may say, our highly skilled members’ contributions are the reason for the carriers’ extremely high profits, and it’s about time that our members receive the fair contract that we have been fighting for, and that the carriers have been fighting against, for the past several years.’
“Ratification ballots will be mailed to SMART MD freight rail members soon. While SMART MD was able to reach a tentative agreement, the Transportation Division is still negotiating with the NCCC. General President Sellers calls on the NCCC to resolve the attendance policies and working conditions impacting operating employees in order to provide a better quality of life for our brothers and sisters in the Transportation Division.”
* The 12 rail unions bargaining with carriers are: the American Train Dispatchers Association; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; International Association of Machinists; International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; Mechanical Division of International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART); National Conference of Firemen & Oilers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Transport Workers; Transportation Communications Union (including Brotherhood Railway Carmen); and Transportation Division of SMART (including Railroad Yardmasters of America).
Class I carriers represented at the bargaining table by the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC) are BNSF; Canadian National; CSX (although it is negotiating wages and work rules separately with SMART-TD and BLET); Kansas City Southern; Norfolk Southern; and Union Pacific. Canadian Pacific is negotiating separately with all its unions. Many smaller railroads also are represented by NCCC.