Rail unions refusing advance payments in favor of a new deal

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — All the major railroads now plan to offer their employees up to $600 a month in advance of raises they expect to pay once the current two-year-old national contract talks are eventually settled.

But a coalition of unions that represents more than 105,000 railroad workers said Monday they’ll refuse the payments partly because workers would be on the hook to repay some of the money if the eventual raises aren’t big enough to cover the payments. The unions want the National Carriers’ Conference Committee that represents more than 30 railroads to negotiate a contract instead.

“This latest proposal, somewhere between a loan and a payday advance, is just further evidence that the NCCC has no intentions of reaching a voluntary settlement any time soon,” the unions said in a statement. “You don’t offer temporary proposals if you plan to offer a complete contract settlement.”

The group that represents the railroads said they’ll keep their offer on the table because it would put money in the pockets of workers quickly at a time when inflation is soaring while other issues are sorted out at the bargaining table. The railroads said the pandemic has made it difficult to make progress in bargaining because few in-person meetings have been held.

“Rail employees work hard and deserve compensation increases that keep them among the best paid employees in the nation,” the railroads said in a statement. “The railroads want to reach new national agreements with the labor organizations that provide those increases, but the issues on the national bargaining table are complex and there is more work to be done before complete agreements can be finalized.”

The railroads all announced their payment proposal Friday a few days after CSX announced it had offered these payments to its unions. Executives at CSX and Union Pacific said when they announced their earnings last week that an overall contract with the unions is likely still some time away.

Both Union Pacific and CSX reported a 22% jump in their earnings as the railroads were able to increase rates and collect more fuel surcharges even as they struggled to clear up congestion on their rail networks that has delayed deliveries to customers.

The contract talks remain mired in mediation while the railroads pursue unpopular proposals to cut rail crews from two people down to one in certain circumstances. The unions also don’t want to make major concessions in workplace rules after seeing nearly one-third of all railroad jobs eliminated over the past six years as the major freight railroads have overhauled their operations.

The unions have also complained that BNSF and Union Pacific have imposed tough new attendance rules in the past two years without negotiating them that make it difficult for workers to take any days off.

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