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ModesNewsRailroadRegulation

U.S. freight railroads file lawsuit against rail workers’ union over train crew size

Eight U.S. freight railroads have filed a lawsuit against a railroad union, saying the union is refusing to come to the bargaining table to hash out issues involving train crew size.

The railroads say the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD) is refusing to engage on the issue of train crew size as both sides prepare for an upcoming round of collective bargaining that is slated to start after November 1. 

“SMART-TD has consistently refused to bargain over crew consist [the complement of a train crew], asserting, among other things, that any proposals on this subject are barred by ‘moratorium’ provisions in existing agreements. The railroads disagree with that interpretation, and maintain that any disagreement over the meaning of the moratoriums is a ‘minor dispute’ subject to binding arbitration,” the railroads said in their October 3 court filing to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth. The lawsuit defines the moratorium provisions as protections offered to employees in exchange for reductions in crew consist. The railroads say these moratoriums don’t prohibit the railroads from making new proposals on other subjects, including the number, function or assignment of ground service personnel on trains.

The railroads also say SMART-TD is obliged to participate in collective bargaining over train crew size per the Railway Labor Act. Their potential discussions would affect labor arrangements system-wide. 

The railroads involved in the lawsuit include BNSF (NYSE: BRK), CSX (NYSE: CSX), Kansas City Southern (NYSE: KSU), Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC), Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP), the Belt Railway Company of Chicago, and two Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) subsidiaries, the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, which operates in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio and the Illinois Central Railroad, which operates in Illinois and Iowa, with routes connecting to Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. 

The issue of train crew size has come increasingly under debate after the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said in a May determination that it was no longer pursuing a proposed rule on whether it should require train crew sizes of at least two crew members. The rail industry has said that establishing the size of a train crew is a discussion more appropriate for the bargaining table and that technologies such as positive train control will enable rail operations to be even safer. Meanwhile, union leaders have said that a minimal train crew size of at least two people enables safer operations, especially as trains become longer. 

Although FRA’s May determination says that state laws requiring minimum train crew sizes were voided as a result, state legislative activity mandating a minimum train crew size has continued, while some members of Congress have introduced bills addressing the issue. The train crew size issue is also being debated in the courts.

SMART-TD said the lawsuit is an “attempt to undermine our collective bargaining agreements” and the bargaining process.

“This is not the first time that the rail carriers have attempted an attack on crew consist. SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, noting the carriers’ history of unsuccessful attacks on crew consist, stated, ‘this latest attempt is nothing new, and it will once again be met with a vigorous defense.’”

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.

5 Comments

  1. This is one of the most disastrous things these railroads can do! I haul crews around and have heard some horrifying stories. A conductor’s appendix bursting and having to be life-flighted out of a desolate area of the state! Had it not been for the engineer, he would not be alive today. He was 23 when it happened. You also have to look at the age of the engineers. Most are between 40 and 60 years old. Medical problems can come out of the blue! We had an engineer, 40, die of a massive heart attack, thank the Lord, he was not at work when it happened. But, it will happen!! There are 2 man crews for a reason.. We don’t need any run-a-way trains and putting everyone in jeopardy!! There railroads are raking in billions!! Really!! How much more money do the CEO’s and stockholders need?? The greed in this country is out of control!!!!!!!

  2. This is the perfect time for are railroad unions to get a set of balls between their legs and stand up to the corporate greed like the UAW did. It’s time to get some of there back bone back. Thay let the railroads take enough from us . Now its are time. I hope that don’t let this opportunity slip by. I know as a engineer I don’t want to be up there by myself. Thay say that ptc will allow that I thank thay are wrong. There is no.such thing as a fail proof system. Its failing out there every day the public just don’t know about it. GOOD JOB UAW. I wish my unions had the balls thay do.

  3. My railroad Union is a joke and so are all the workers. Here greedy ass shit. I hope we strike because the time is now to do it. And as everybody else has said. Way to go UAW….. you guys rock and kicked GM in the ass(pocket book). Bnsf makes billions every 3 months “PROFIT”….. RATHER LOSE MY JOB STRIKING THEN TO SIT BY AND SEE IT GO

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