OMAHA, Neb. — Several thousand workers at CSX will soon get one of the things that pushed the U.S. railroad industry to the brink of a strike last fall: paid sick time.
CSX announced a deal Tuesday with two of its 12 unions, becoming the first major railroad to offer that benefit that most U.S. workers take for granted.
About 4,000 track-maintenance workers in the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union and another 1,000 mechanical workers in the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen union will get four days of paid sick leave as part of the agreements. The workers will also be able to convert three of their personal leave days into sick-leave days.
Quality-of-life concerns about the lack of paid sick time and demanding schedules that keep many rail workers on call 24-7 dominated contract talks with all the major railroads last fall. More than half of all the roughly 115,000 rail workers involved voted to reject five-year contracts that included 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses because of those concerns.
Ultimately, that contract was imposed on all the workers at CSX, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads after Congress and President Joe Biden stepped in to block a strike because of concerns about the potential dire economic consequences.
Tuesday’s deal is especially welcome to rail workers who remained frustrated after the contract was imposed because the new contract didn’t resolve most of their quality-of-life issues. Many workers say their jobs became unbearable after more than one-third of all railroad jobs were eliminated over the last six years as the railroads retooled their operations.
“It’s a beautiful thing because that’s what we’re fighting for,” said Matt Weaver, a BMWED member based in Toledo, Ohio. “Things are moving in the right direction. We just have to keep the momentum going.”
CSX CEO Joe Hinrichs said the agreements show that the railroad “is committed to listening to our railroaders and working with their representatives to find solutions that improve their quality of life and experience as employees.”
But the head of the union representing engineers said the deal doesn’t do enough to help railroad workers, especially for train crews.
“This agreement is a good start; however engineers are on call every day of the year and four paid sick days per year does not fulfill their needs,” said Eddie Hall, the newly elected president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. “Railroaders are essential workers, essential to keeping the supply chain moving, it’s essential that they be provided with adequate sick leave by all of the carriers.”
CSX, which is based in Jacksonville, Florida, and the other major freight railroads refused to offer paid sick time last fall because they said the unions had agreed over the decades to forego paid sick leave in favor of strong short-term disability benefits and higher pay. Railroad officials also said it was too late in the yearslong negotiations to work sick time into the deal.
“This paid sick leave agreement with CSX is certainly welcome but long overdue,” said Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department labor coalition that includes all the major rail unions. “We look forward to other rail crafts reaching similar agreements with CSX and other railroads following suit.”
All the other freight railroads promised to negotiate further with the unions about finding ways to improve their quality of life. Tuesday’s announcement is the first significant result of those talks.
There have been a couple other small encouraging signs of progress this year, with CSX announcing that workers would no longer be penalized for missing work for medical appointments, and Union Pacific launching a small scheduling pilot that’s giving a handful of engineers regularly scheduled days off.
BMWED spokesman Clark Ballew said the union expects the other major freight railroads to reach similar agreements on sick time, “otherwise, they look especially greedy now.” He said this agreement appears to be an effort by CSX to address the simmering concerns of its workers and sinking morale at the railroad.
Josh Funk is an AP Business Writer.