Next Stop for CBC Union, Railroad Negotiations: Mediation

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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The 10 rail unions comprising the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition (CBC) have entered into mediation following an impasse in contract negotiations with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC); the NCCC, representing all U.S. Class I railroads and many smaller freight and passenger lines, said that it welcomed the assistance.

The CBC explained its move in a Jan. 24 statement:

After more than two years of bargaining with the major U.S. Class I railroads, discussions completely stalled last week. Accordingly, pursuant to the terms and conditions of the Railway Labor Act, top leaders of 10 rail unions applied to the National Mediation Board (NMB) for the assignment of a federal mediator to assist in our negotiations.

“The Carriers represented by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) simply are not bargaining in good faith. This development is very frustrating, as the Unions in the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition have been at the negotiating table since November 2019. Throughout that time, despite our best efforts, the carriers have not made a comprehensive settlement proposal that we believe our members would even remotely entertain. In fact, the Carriers’ latest proposal is worse than bad faith; it is insulting.

“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. 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 concessionary 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.

“We anticipate that the involvement of the NMB will cause the industry to refocus on addressing the legitimate needs of the men and women whose labor generates their positive financial returns.”

Download the CBC’s latest proposal here:

The CBC unions include the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA); the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/Teamsters Rail Conference (BLET); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS); the International Association of Machinists (IAM); the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB); the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU (NCFO); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU); the Transportation Communications Union / IAM (TCU), including TCU’s Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (BRC); and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD). Collectively, they represent more than 105,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements.

Railroads Respond

“The railroads believe in the collective bargaining process and will continue negotiating in good faith to reach voluntary agreements with the CBC unions,” NCCC Chairman Brendan Branon said in a Jan. 24 statement. “In that regard, the railroads welcome the NMB’s assistance and look forward to their discussions with the CBC and the NMB.”

NCCC Chairman Brendan Branon

According to NCCC, rail carriers “propose reaching agreements on a fair compensation and benefit package for rail workers that modernize the national railroad health plan and also update certain outdated work rules that, in some cases, have not been revised in decades.” (The NCCC website provides details.) Since November 2019, they have made proposals to “modernize labor agreements and leverage transformational technologies—including developments in automation and safety—to manage long-term structural changes in rail traffic.”

Several railroads, also represented by the NCCC, are pursuing local discussions directly with SMART-TD regarding redeployment of conductors from the cab of the locomotive to ground-based positions, according to NCCC.  

Additionally, the railroads, through the NCCC, are already in mediation with a second coalition consisting of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Mechanical Division (SMART-MD).

With CBC’s recent filing, all unions in national handling are now engaged in the mediation process, NCCC reported.

Bargaining Background

Rail industry negotiations are governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which is designed to minimize service disruptions because of labor disputes. Collective bargaining agreements remain in force indefinitely in the railroad industry, according to NCCC. “Without a contract expiration date, negotiators do not work against a fixed deadline and proceed through various steps that are designed to facilitate negotiated settlements,” the group explains. “These steps include, among other things, compulsory mediation under the supervision of the NMB, which is commonly used in national freight rail bargaining. Strikes and other forms of work stoppages are prohibited while this process is under way.”

Once a mediation application is filed with the NMB, the agency will docket the case and assign one or more mediators to facilitate continued dialogue and help the parties reach an agreement. There is no time limit for the mediation process.

Visit the NCCC website for an FAQ on the CBC mediation process.

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