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Tentative rail agreement provides medical leave for workers — but there’s a catch

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The 2022 tentative national rail agreement includes some guaranteed time off for rail workers as well as the largest wage increase in nearly 50 years, according to a copy of the agreement shared with FreightWaves.

SMART Transportation Division’s negotiating committee approved this tentative agreement last week unanimously, averting what could have been the first major railroad strike since 1992. 

The most contentious point of rail workers’ negotiations with their employers was the question of time off. North American Class I railroads have revamped their operations in recent years, leaving them with better profit margins but fewer employees. As a result, rail conductors and engineers are more likely to be on call and unable to take time off for medical reasons.

The tentative agreement now guarantees one additional paid day off for workers. Unionized rail employees will be permitted three annual periods off for medical care visits, and cannot be penalized for that time off by their employers. Hospital admissions or surgeries cannot be penalized. 

However, there’s a catch. 

The medical care visits must take place on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday and be scheduled at least 30 days in advance.

The time off allows for days off before or after the exam, according to the tentative agreement. It’s not clear if employees will be penalized for taking medical leave should the days off around the exam not take place on those three days of the week, or if the exam must occur with less than 30 days of notice.

The SMART Transportation synopsis of the tentative agreement stated, “Note that this is the first time the Carriers have ever agreed to bargain over attendance policies on a national scale, and it opens the door for future negotiation over these issues!”

SMART Transportation, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, did not immediately provide a comment to FreightWaves’ press inquiry. Union leaders had pushed for 15 days of paid time off, the Washington Post previously reported.

Rail agreement provides wage increases as well as cost-sharing contributions

Those covered by this agreement will see general wage increases of 24% compounded through 2024 and $5,000 in lump-sum bonuses. More details are available here: 

Employees covered by the SMART Transportation agreement will see no increases to out-of-pocket costs, prescription drugs, or co-pays. Monthly contributions have been frozen at 15%, and cost-sharing contributions are increasing from 12.6% to 15%. The SMART Transportation union included the following summary:

What happens next

The general chairpersons of SMART Transportation are reviewing the tentative agreement and will be able to submit questions to the union’s general chairperson until Oct. 7, according to a Thursday email to the chairpersons that was viewed by FreightWaves. 

Following that, the SMART Transportation negotiating committee will consolidate questions to the rail carriers’ representatives. The questions and answers will be available to rail workers by the time they vote on the agreement. That 21-day voting period is expected in mid- to late October, and the results are expected by late November, according to a tweet from SMART Union.

As FreightWaves previously reported, it’s not definite that workers will vote for this contract — meaning a rail strike could still occur. Charles Stallworth, a train conductor, said last week that he did not fully support the tentative agreement. “At this point, I’m kind of backed into a wall where I have to go with it, even though I don’t really agree with it,” Stallworth said.  

Are you a rail worker? Email [email protected].


  1. Er sjostrom

    As a engineer for a class one… I am voting a big fat NO.

    Ole Denny boy Pierce sold every member of the BLET out just to appease the Democratic Party.

    Well guess what, he himself is up for re-election and unless the Union screws that up too, he will be in unemployment line. It should be noted too that he and his cronies have put numerous road blocks against an and all opposition but opposition he has!

  2. Jeffrey Chenault

    Again you are reporting half truths or carrier talking lies! First off the historic pay raise is only 4% more than past contracts while the carriers profits have hit HISTORICAL HIGHS and beat each year for the last 10 years running! Next lie is not all employees will be eligible for the 3 days of preventive doctor visits! Not said is if you are sick and you ask for a single day of vacation to cover your time off the carrier will deny your request and force you to a force layoff and access you 8 points against your attendance record. I know that Biden stepped in and delayed the strike so congress could go campaign and take a victory lap but he just kicked it down the road until after November! My biggest concern is the vote by the unions and if it will actually a fair and honest vote! I am a UNION member for 45 years and counting!

  3. Frank Klatt

    The pay increases simply match the increase of medical, therefore, it’s a wash

    Scheduled sick days, mid-week? That is an insult.

    Yes, the Biden administration simply kicked the can down the road in order to protect whatever political gains this Fall.

    Scheduling ? What a mess.

    I have 32 years in this industry, glad I’m on the tail end.


  4. Cowboy

    if I was the president of the United States, I wouldn’t count my chickens just yet. This “contract ” is not even close to what the rank & file of the T&E want. I personally will be very surprised if it passes. This is far from over.

  5. Manuel Vargas

    Railroad employees knew that this would be pushed till after the midterms. They think we’re dumb, but in the end we the employees will get screwed.
    Thanks for nothing Biden!! 👎🏼

    1. Mike Stoll

      And everyone couldn’t stand Trump and wanted Biden. Now look what ya have, nothing. Medical insurance goes up eliminate blue print boards and extra board. Sure don’t sound good to me

  6. John Chamberlin

    The raise is 22%! Compounding is not negotiable. Nothing more than a sales pitch of a less than acceptable contract. The Unions should be ashamed. As usual, the pressure to negotiate was put on labor by The White House and not on the “record profits” Carriers.

    1. Jim Corrigan

      Simply adding the percentage increase each year isn’t accurate. To calculate the total increase on current $75K for example:
      $75K x 1.03 = $77,250
      $77,250 x 1.035 = $79,954
      $79,954 x 1.07 = $85,551
      $85,551 x 1.04 =$88,973
      $88,973 x 1.045 = $92,976
      $92,976 – $75,000 = $17,976
      $17,976/$75,000 = 0.2396 or 23.96%
      Compounding isn’t a negotiation ploy, it’s simply a mathematical property or financial phenomenon.

  7. Ray

    I work for a rail yard in Chicago in the mechanical dept. This retro pay they are offering is ridiculous. How can you justify going by annual income? If you are a new employee you start of at 75% pay rate and go to 100% after 3yrs of service. Well in 2020 i was at 80%, 21 85% and 90% the last 2 months of the year. This year in January at 100%. Well each year I have worked around 700hrs of OT. So in these past 2 1/2yrs I’ve worked 2000hrs of OT. Not including regular hrs of service. Well needless to say I didn’t break 100k any year. But I did 75,85,93 and I will be well over 100k this year. So doing the math I should be getting well over $20k in back pay with all the OT and regular hrs worked. But me not being at full scale each year I’m being screwed out of well over 5k in back pay!!! The guys who work little or no OT will be getting what I’m getting in back pay!! How is this right and just?? I work my tail off and should be paid accordingly by hrs worked and not by annual income at the end of the year. Our unions didn’t even consider the newer employees when they are agreeing to these things!!!

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Rachel Premack

Rachel Premack is the editorial director at FreightWaves. She writes the newsletter MODES. Her reporting on the logistics industry has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Vox, and additional digital and print media. She's also spoken about her work on PBS Newshour, ABC News, NBC News, NPR, and other major outlets. If you’d like to get in touch with Rachel, please email her at [email protected] or [email protected].