While the Bipartisan Rail Safety Act has yet to be made into law, some states are enacting their own safety laws, one of them being the two-person crew requirement that unions fought for, but did not get, in the recent 2023 negotiations.
On May 24, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed a two-person crew bill into law. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) called it a victory for railroad safety. The requirement was included in H.F. 2887, the Transportation Omnibus Bill, which earlier had passed in the Minnesota legislature with bipartisan support.
"This is a culmination of 10 years of hard work by the BLET Minnesota State Legislative Board," said Joel Mueller, chairman of the BLET's Minnesota State Legislative Board. "Both Rep. Brand and Sen. McEwen have been strong supporters of this important rail safety legislation and fought to ensure it was included in the final omnibus bill and helped to get it over the finish line."
Can states actually regulate train crew size? Railway Age noted in a May 26 article on its website that, "In the absence of federal law or regulation (and there currently is neither), states have authority under the 10th amendment (States' Rights) to regulate rail safety -- the 1995 ICC Termination Act having prohibited states from regulating railroad rates and practices and leaving economic regulation solely with the ICC/STB. Minnesota is now the 12th state to enact a two-person minimum crew law."
The transportation bill addresses other rail safety issues supported by the BLET Minnesota State Legislative Board, including the addition of two new state rail safety inspectors. According to Minnesota Department of Transportations, "rail track inspector monitors and inspects functions of railroad track and structures to assure compliance with Federal Safety and Health Regulations among railroads, railroad employees and contractors for railroads within an assigned geographical territory." Other duties are listed here: https://www.dot.state.mn.us/….
UPDATE ON UNION MEMBERS' SICK DAYS
After losing a provision for paid sick days in their 2023 contract negotiations, the rail unions continued to push railroads for some sort of sick day policy. CSX Transportation was the first railroad to provide sick days and has still been negotiating with its union members.
On May 22, CSX announced that it had reached a tentative agreement with the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division CSRA (SMART-TD CSRA) to provide paid sick leave benefits.
"The SMART-TD CSRA agreement, which is pending ratification by union members, marks the 10th such agreement CSX has reached with its union-represented employees since February. A majority of the company's unionized workers now have paid sick leave benefits," noted the CSX on its company website.
As of May 1, Union Pacific (UP) has granted sick days to 47% of its workers, Norfolk Southern (NS) to 46%, and BNSF, the largest freight railroad, to 31%. At those companies, eight to 10 of their 12 unions have reached agreements.
Then, on May 18, BLET announced the first deal on engineer paid sick leave with the NS that will provide up to seven paid sick days per year to BLET members. "The agreement will provide Norfolk Southern engineers with five new days of paid sick leave per year while also offering them the flexibility to use up to two additional days of existing paid time off as sick leave," stated BLET.
"The new agreement will provide new paid sick leave benefits to over 3,300 Norfolk Southern engineers, representing almost 25% of the NS craft workforce. With this agreement, almost all of the company's craft employees -- approximately 98% -- have entered into paid sick leave deals," said the NS press release.
"This is a big day for the BLET," said Scott Bunten, BLET general chairman (NS-Eastern Lines GCA). "Our members are the heart of the railroad, and this agreement is a major win in our tireless efforts to improve the quality of their experience on and off the job."
"I deeply appreciate the contributions of our Norfolk Southern engineers and the longstanding partnership we've had with the BLET," said Alan H. Shaw, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern. "This agreement builds on that relationship and continues our industry-leading effort to enhance quality of life as we become the first railroad to reach an engineer sick leave deal."
For more information, see the following:
NS press release on BLET sick days: http://nscorp.mediaroom.com/…
CSX May 22 press release: https://www.csx.com/…
Railway Age story on two-person crews: https://www.railwayage.com/…
Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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