Rail industry must overcome strained labor relations in order to survive

The drama about whether union members would go on strike has passed, with Congress passing legislation and President Joe Biden signing that legislation requiring all unions to ratify the labor agreement that union and railroad negotiators reached in September.

But the scars of the war remain and these scars will be healed because the railway company not only fully restores the work level, but is successful in taking this important role and important mode of transportation.

“If the railways wants to seriously address these issues that members have been vocal about as a problem for the past three years, that would be a positive change. … If they want to start raising morale, they’re going to have to work hard to get there,” said Greg Regan, president of the trade union, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

How will the railways and unions continue? They can do this through community engagement and by changing the culture of the train. Both efforts will have challenges.

Why contract negotiations went differently this time around

Unions have been negotiating contracts for each new contract for years, and there has been a cultural expectation within the company that both sides will give and take without much fuss.

But this discussion, which started in January 2020, is different for several reasons.

One is due to staff cuts in recent years, with some claiming that railroads have cut staff as they seek to implement Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). PSR is a way to streamline operations, but others argue that it is the only way to reduce costs and increase shareholder value.

The COVID-19 pandemic and regulations have also exacerbated the labor shortage, which in turn has affected the new negotiation process. It has become more difficult to take sick leave because of the sick leave policies that are crushing vacation time. These laws were put in place to ensure adequate staffing, especially as the railway workforce has declined significantly in recent years due to layoffs.

The third reason is the impact of social media on employee dissatisfaction; shippers also used the media to warn of the economic disaster that would result from the project. As a result, the private negotiation process of history has made it possible for the public to understand the interests of Congress and the public.

“The Railways have played their cards right. They are playing in the public court because they know that the public and Congress will ultimately be the judge,” said independent rail analyst Tony Hatch. “So that explosion of social media, you heard all these things about how it works in a dangerous way on the railways. I’m not saying they were dishonest, I’m saying they went public [in a way] that had never been done before because they wanted Congress to know.

But Hatch said groups are not the only ones trying to sway public opinion: “They’re not the only ones doing it. The railroad organized [and made] a very strange connection [with] the suppliers, who issued a press release saying it would be a disaster. And they want Congress to hear that.

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