Railroad members will vote on national contract

Tentative agreement boosts wages, caps health care premiums

AFTER 29 MONTHS of contract negotiations, the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition (RLBC) and the freight railroads have reached a tentative agreement for a five-year contract. The RLBC provides collective bargaining services for 80,000 union railroad workers — about half of all railroad workers in the United States. Seven unions comprise the RLBC, including the Boilermakers, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, International Brotherhood of Engineers, Sheet Metal Workers International Association, National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, and American Train Dispatchers Association. The railroad employers include CSX, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, Burlington Northern/Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and other smaller carriers.

Alan Scheer, director of Railroad Division Services for the Boilermakers, said bargaining began in early 2005 and quickly reached an impasse over wages, health care, and work rule demands. “The railroads wanted our members to begin paying a third of the health insurance premiums. They also demanded work rule changes that would have allowed them to expand subcontracting, undercut seniority rights, eliminate restrictions on work schedules and rest days, and other changes that would have negatively impacted our members.”

Once an impasse was declared, the Federal Mediation Board became involved in the negotiations. Twenty-two months later, the two sides finally came to terms. The unions will receive wage increases in each of the five years of the agreement — 2.5 percent in 2005, 3 percent in 2006 and 2007, 4 percent in 2008, and 4.5 percent in 2009. The increases are retroactive to July 1, 2005.

The agreement also caps health insurance costs members pay at 15 percent of the total premium beginning Jan. 1, 2008, and at 15 percent or $200 — whichever is greater — on Jan. 1, 2009.

Additionally, the railroads withdrew all of their demands for work rule changes.

“We definitely will recommend acceptance of this agreement,” Scheer stated. “It was the best deal we could get. Health and welfare was a huge issue for us, as it is for other industries. We really needed those caps.”

Scheer said the unions would mail copies of the tentative agreement to their memberships sometime in May.