US railroad labor issues

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Barb Stout

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I hear that one of the main things the conductors and engineers are striking over is having to be available to work most or all of the time; being "on call" forever, I guess. I assume it's because the freight rail lines don't have enough workforce redundancy which I have heard has been a long-time problem. I imagine that now it might be difficult to rectify even if the railroad companies wanted to due to the shortage of workers "everywhere". If they did try to rectify it, would that cause problems to Amtrak; would perhaps conductors and engineers be poached from Amtrak? And currently, who gets paid more overall, freight rail-lines conductors/engineers or Amtrak's?
 

AmtrakBlue

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I hear that one of the main things the conductors and engineers are striking over is having to be available to work most or all of the time; being "on call" forever, I guess. I assume it's because the freight rail lines don't have enough workforce redundancy which I have heard has been a long-time problem. I imagine that now it might be difficult to rectify even if the railroad companies wanted to due to the shortage of workers "everywhere". If they did try to rectify it, would that cause problems to Amtrak; would perhaps conductors and engineers be poached from Amtrak? And currently, who gets paid more overall, freight rail-lines conductors/engineers or Amtrak's?
They are on call 24/7/365. They get penalized if they don't show up when called, even if they're on approved time off (vacation, doctor's appts, etc). They're probably short-staffed because of their poor work life policies. Engineers and conductors have been leaving the freights to work for Amtrak.
 

Barb Stout

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They are on call 24/7/365. They get penalized if they don't show up when called, even if they're on approved time off (vacation, doctor's appts, etc). They're probably short-staffed because of their poor work life policies. Engineers and conductors have been leaving the freights to work for Amtrak.
Wow, that's terrible! So why didn't the PEBS (or whatever it is) document deal with that?
 
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Here's a discussion on labor issues, including, but not limited to the possible impending strike on the Class Is.

I'll start it out by suggesting that our current woes seem to generate from an attitude among managers that they need to get as rid of as many "redundant" workers as possible (except maybe in the executive suites.) I don't know what they're teaching in the business schools, but it seems obvious that the top management needs to have more experience in the actual operations of the enterprise rather than treating it as some sort of abstract finance exercise.
 

enviro5609

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Wow, that's terrible! So why didn't the PEBS (or whatever it is) document deal with that?
Because things have gotten so bad there isn't a good solution at this point that doesn't involve serious economic implications. It is a "beatings will continue until morale improves" situation. Things are so bad there aren't enough employees, so things get worse, so there are less employees, etc. The attendance policies are an attempt to maintain current service levels with an insufficient workforce (thereby maintaining or even increasing next quarter's profits). It might make more strategic sense to take the short term pain now to invest in a better workforce going forward, but that's not the choice shareholders want. In fact, corporate leadership has doubled down. The Class Is are already pushing to reduce train crews to 1 person, as the next step to do more with less. That will only make working conditions less safe and further hurt retention.

The problem is, this negative cycle has gone so far that there's no easy way back. If the PEB mandated more sensible leave policies now, the Class I's would have to cut service, and this would not only affect their profits but heavily exacerbate the supply chain and inflation issues in the short term. That will happen one way or the other with current staffing trends, but there just isn't the political will there to force a course correction until its a crisis. A service collapse at the Class I's may be inevitable, but no one wants to be the one who is seen to have caused it. In the absence of leadership and tough choices, things may have to get worse before they get better.

There is a lot to unpack there in terms of what is wrong with corporate culture and our system of governance. But I'll let it speak for itself.
 
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Canoe Racing

A Japanese company (Toyota) and an American company (General Motors) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River. Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese team won by a mile. The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action. Their conclusionwas the Japanese team had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 8 people steering and 1 person rowing.

So American management hired a consulting firm and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion. They advised that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing. To prevent another loss to the Japanese, the American's rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 3 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager. They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 1 person rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the "Rowing Quality First Program," with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rower.

There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses. The next year the Japanese won by two miles. Humiliated, the American management laid off the rower for poor performance, halted development of a new canoe, sold the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses and the next year's racing team was outsourced to India.
 

PRR 60

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The membership of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has rejected the proposed contract. The IAM was one of ten unions that had reached a tentative settlement. So, there are now three unions without an agreement.

Although nine unions have reached tentative agreements, the three without agreements represent over 70,000 rail workers. The nine with agreements represent about 44,000 workers. Big hill to climb in the next 34 hours (after three years to work things out).
 

Qapla

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Back when they were making the first "foot" ruler, one group wanted to make it 13" and the other group wanted to make it 11". When the discussion was over, we ended up with the 12" ruler being a foot - it was said that, for the first time ever, each side was actually willing to give an inch and a workable solution was achieved.
 

John819

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The membership of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has rejected the proposed contract. The IAM was one of ten unions that had reached a tentative settlement. So, there are now three unions without an agreement.

Although nine unions have reached tentative agreements, the three without agreements represent over 70,000 rail workers. The nine with agreements represent about 44,000 workers. Big hill to climb in the next 34 hours (after three years to work things out).
If any one union goes out, the rest will honor the picket line. So management needs to get 100% or Congress needs to enact some legislation to defer the strike.

If either of these occurs by the deadline, look out for porcine objects aviating over the ice cap covering Hades.
 

chubbycat

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1 rail union rejects deal, 2 accept ahead of strike deadline

 
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Just-Thinking-51

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The underlying issues of been on call forever will not be a easy fix. The freight crew are limited on a monthly number of hours it seem. To get it to a guarantee day off each week going to be a heavy lift. The freight railroads are make huge amounts of money right now, so they can give out hiring bonus, but they culture of “do what we say” need to change.

Work schedule that would work.
10 days on, 4 days off.
5 days on, 2 days off.
1 month on, 1 month off.
6 month on, 6 months off.

These are common shifts available in other transportation business.
Repost from the Amtrak thread.

This is fixable, but I don’t think the railroad will do it. Maybe the four modes of transportation (Air, Sea, Roads, and Railroad) Need the federal government to dictate there hours of service and even things out, a bit.

On duty and off duty times are variable depending on the mode of transportation. Seem a Human needs a different rest cycle after a day of work. It is not depend on the human need, but the job they hold.
 

John819

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The on-call rule has been in the union contracts for years, and it apparently was not a problem. What changed was that the railroads adopted PSR and cut staffing to the bone, so that train crews now operate to the maximum hours of service allowed with no scheduled time off. They may get 10 hours of rest time, but at irregular intervals and with the possibility of doing another 12 hour shift on two hours notice immediately thereafter.
 

west point

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Because things have gotten so bad there isn't a good solution at this point that doesn't involve serious economic implications.

The problem is, this negative cycle has gone so far that there's no easy way back. If the PEB mandated more sensible leave policies now, the Class I's would have to cut service, and this would not only affect their profits but heavily exacerbate the supply chain and inflation issues in the short term.

Glad to see someone recognizes this pending problem. This is the Hobson's choice that has this poster worrried. How many persons will defy any congressional action?. Will that cause many trains not to operate? Will class 1s try to demand 1 person crews immediately and can that be the RR's ultimate goal?
 
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Looks like there's a proposed settlement that gives the workers at least some more flexibility in the times off.

Maybe now is the time to start talking about nationalizing the rail infrastructure, or at least having an independent entity controlling dispatching, the length of trains, etc. Perhaps even a law mandating 2-person crews, etc. Even if the proposals don't succeed, the mere fact that there's public discourse about it might cause management to hold back their worst ideas about how to screw over the workers and provide lousy service in the name of short term profits that can be skimmed off by the top managers and financial speculators.

In the broader sphere of business management in general, we probably need reforms that require business enterprises to exist primarily for the purpose of providing the product that they're selling, with making money as a necessary, but secondary objective. It would probably also be a good thing to have some sort of limits on personal wealth. Not sure what the reforms would be, but achieving those objective would make the world a lot better place.
 

jis

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Why is the dictum that "a two person crew is better" not open to analysis to the extent that it is considered to be appropriate to mandate it under all circumstances? Inquiring minds want to know. What safety is going to improve on the NEC in the presence of ACSES and all that by placing a second crew member in the cab? If two is better is three even better?
 

Michigan Mom

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Looks like there's a proposed settlement that gives the workers at least some more flexibility in the times off.

Maybe now is the time to start talking about nationalizing the rail infrastructure, or at least having an independent entity controlling dispatching, the length of trains, etc. Perhaps even a law mandating 2-person crews, etc. Even if the proposals don't succeed, the mere fact that there's public discourse about it might cause management to hold back their worst ideas about how to screw over the workers and provide lousy service in the name of short term profits that can be skimmed off by the top managers and financial speculators.

In the broader sphere of business management in general, we probably need reforms that require business enterprises to exist primarily for the purpose of providing the product that they're selling, with making money as a necessary, but secondary objective. It would probably also be a good thing to have some sort of limits on personal wealth. Not sure what the reforms would be, but achieving those objective would make the world a lot better place.
I've been reading about safety concerns I didn't know existed, apart from the scheduling policies - length of freights being among them. And the host of potential safety concerns that go along with it.
Nationalizing the railroads is a great discussion to have!
 

Dutchrailnut

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Nationalizing railroads would require emminent domain, which would require Government to pay fair market value for each railroad , there is no way we can afford that. and in addition to fully maintain such a massive system, think of the cost.
 

jis

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Nationalizing railroads would require emminent domain, which would require Government to pay fair market value for each railroad , there is no way we can afford that. and in addition to fully maintain such a massive system, think of the cost.
IMHO ... Nationalizing is just a random pipe dream that people throw out from time to time. It won't happen anytime soon unless the US property ownership laws undergo a sea change. It will taken the railroads a long time to screw up to the extent that anyone that is serious will think about doing it seriously. The last time it was done was in the middle of a war using war powers and with the understanding that it was a temporary measure.
 
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What resulted from the back and forth was a tentative agreement that will go to union members for a vote after a post-ratification cooling off period of several weeks.

Railroad workers will now be able to take unpaid days off for doctor’s appointments without being penalized under railroad attendance rules. Previously, workers would lose points under the attendance systems that the BNSF and Union Pacific railways had adopted, and they could be disciplined if they lost all their points.

The unions that represent the conductors and engineers who drive the trains had pressed hard for changes in the attendance rules, and they said this deal sets a precedent that they will be able to negotiate over those kinds of rules in the future. But workers will still have to vote whether those changes are enough to approve the deal.

 
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Devil's Advocate

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Nationalizing the railroads is a great discussion to have!
Nationalizing railroads would require [eminent] domain, which would require Government to pay fair market value for each railroad , there is no way we can afford that. and in addition to fully maintain such a massive system, think of the cost.
I do not disagree that nationalization has little chance of happening so long as vast monetary contributions are considered protected speech, but I am surprised that nationalization is never mentioned even in the form of leverage to make other demands seem more reasonable by comparison.

IMHO ... Nationalizing is just a random pipe dream that people throw out from time to time. It won;t happen anytime soon,. It will taken the railroads a long time to screw up to the extent that anyone that is serious will think about doing it seriously. The last time it was done was in the middle of a war.
Railroad screw-ups will not risk nationalization unless the Overton window moves in that direction, and the only way to do that is to start discussing it.
 
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Has anyone heard definitely how long the cooling-off period is if unions reject the deal? The news stories all mention a vague “several weeks”, but I’ve seen a few people say it’s around the end of the month. That timetable could definitely cause issues for the forum Gathering…
 
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Why is the dictum that "a two person crew is better" not open to analysis to the extent that it is considered to be appropriate to mandate it under all circumstances? Inquiring minds want to know. What safety is going to improve on the NEC in the presence of ACSES and all that by placing a second crew member in the cab? If two is better is three even better?
A NEC train is not the same as a 2-mile long freight train. And I seem to recall that the single-man crew may have contributing factor to the Lac Megantic disaster in Canada.


In May 2010, former MMA engineer Jarod Briggs of Millinocket, Maine, explained to the Bangor Daily News that "so much could happen in a twelve-hour shift on one of these trains, such as a washed-out track, downed trees or mechanical failure. What if the engineer onboard were to encounter a medical problem? Who is going to know about it? If there is a fire engine or an ambulance needing to get by a train or a crossing when that happens, it could take hours." Briggs left MMA to work for another railway in 2007; while he described the lone crew member involved in the Lac-Mégantic derailment as "a very good engineer, one of the better on the property", he has long expressed safety concerns about MMA's overall train operations because "if you have two people watching you can catch a mistake. It was all about cutting, cutting, cutting."
 
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