CPKC, formed through the merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads, is one of only two Class I railroads in the United States that have not negotiated with SMART-TD members for paid sick time. As with other railroads, they have adopted a strict policy to punish absenteeism. As a result, managers can dish out discipline and dismissal even if an employee must take UNPAID time off to recover from a high fever or while contagious.

Nobody wins when sick workers are punished for being sick

The new CPKC policy went into effect on December 1, 2023. They followed in the footsteps of Union Pacific and BNSF, who also want extreme employee availability. All these policies are designed to allow lower headcounts while increasing schedule flexibility for the managers. But, by pushing these policies too far, the railroads wear out their crews. The unions cannot change the policies directly, but we can fight their enforcement.

“The carrier is simply dragging its feet. We’ve had nearly two years for CPKC to come to the table after the uproar over time off during the last national negotiations,” General Chairperson Sam Habjan of GCA-457 (former Kansas City Southern lines). “They were super quick to get their merger done, but when it comes to taking care of the people doing the work, it’s been a slog.”

SMART-TD can reverse bad management decisions

The fact that these policies are both absurd and inhumane explains our high win rate when cases are brought to a hearing. SMART-TD’s success at overturning bad management choices may also explain why the railroads dish out steeper punishments if a railroader exercises their right to a hearing and loses. By raising the stakes, the railroads try to prevent their bad choices from being challenged. We win anyway — SMART-TD protects our members.

How SMART-TD members can get help

If any SMART-TD member is being unfairly targeted by their boss, they should talk to their local chairperson ASAP. The local chairperson can estimate if a hearing will be successful and can pull in the General Committee or additional union support if the situation demands it. SMART-TD wants to fix these policies, which starts with each railroader reporting their manager’s misdeeds. The more evidence we have and the more precedent we use and establish, the easier these cases become.

“The best way to combat these ‘policies’ is to challenge them,” Habjan said. “The union exists expressly to counter this nonsense. Talk to your local chairpersons and engage with your union. They’re trying to put fear in the workers when they know that SMART-TD officers are ready to stand up for our people. They’re afraid of the power of what we can do.”

SMART-TD is negotiating improved sick-day and time-off policies, one carrier and one property at a time, coast to coast. As the largest freight rail union in the United States, we are making progress. The time has come to call CPKC to the table. Respecting our members is in CPKC’s best interest.

Canadian carriers need to do better for their U.S. crews

It’s simple. No one should be forced to work while they are sick. Everyone should have the ability to take a day or two each week to attend to personal business. Rested and alert railroaders do a better job than fatigued ones. Canadian crews are protected by governmentally mandated time-off policies. Americans who work for Canadian companies don’t inherit those protections, which makes them vulnerable.

We show up to do a tough job and we are proud to do it well. But everyone has a physical limit. If we collapse from overwork, CPKC suffers. Experienced workers are safer and more efficient in the field than new hires, even if the fresh faces have learned all the rules.

This is a crisis in the making. CPKC has copied their peers’ punishing unplanned time-off policies. Without negotiating a just attendance and sick leave policy to balance it, CPKC will suffer. So will their customers. Once lost, rebuilding their ability will take years, even after refreshing their headcount.

CPKC’s policy

The CPKC policy includes the following language: “CPKC T&E and Yardmaster employees who book off sick or unpaid personal leave on two or more available workdays in the calendar month will be subject to attendance review for that month. Disciplinary action may result.”

Second OffenceThird OffenceFourth
Fifth Offence
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• Formal Reprimand


Elect a formal investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
10 demerits
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• 10 demerits


Elect a formal investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
15 demerits
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• 15 demerits


Elect a formal
investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
20 demerits
30 demerits, up to and including dismissal
At company
discretion, up to a 30-calendar day suspension or 30 demerits deferred in lieu of dismissal for accumulation of
consider continued employment/last chance agreement (Consult with LR)
Any combination thereof, up to and including dismissal
* Admission of Responsibility/ Waiver as provided for in the employee’s Collective Agreement

When a railroad takes a broken-down old yard engine, paints it, reupholsters the interior and, of course, updates it with inward-facing cameras, they tell us it has been refurbished. They act like the yard crews should thank them for a massive improvement!

But that new paint job is no help at all when we’re trying to pull an ore train up a 3% grade. It’s the same POS, just a little shinier.

When the Canadian Pacific absorbed Kansas City Southern, (former) KCS crews hoped that life MIGHT be about to get a little better.

It turns out the “refurb” attendance policy is still that same garbage SD-40 they always knew not to trust.

CPKC: meet with us so we can give this thing the overhaul it deserves.

Attention freight rail members in national handling:

To further strengthen our PEB presentation, we are soliciting additional evidence regarding the restrictive and punitive measures carriers have used to punish employees who are attempting to look after their own health, and the actions taken by members to avoid such.

Specifically, we are requesting that members provide details surrounding any time where they felt they had to come to work ill and/or injured, in order to avoid potential discipline and loss of compensation. This includes any time where members may have neglected to care for their own personal health because of the Carriers’ policies.

Additionally, we ask that members share any stories where they have either been denied mark-offs to tend to their own personal health or marked off sick and were subsequently punished. These mark-off requests could have been to attend counseling sessions, routine medical appointments, and/or medical treatments; but must have been for the employee — not a family member or relative.

We want to show how these policies have harmed you and how having paid sick days to care for your own personal health, without retribution, would be a much-needed relief for T&E crews.

Please respond to legal_TD@smart-union.org.

Please reply with your name, local number, and current contact information, in the event that we need to contact you to gather additional information.

In solidarity,

SMART Transportation Division

Brothers and sisters:

As we enter this new year, it is important to reflect on where we have been, what challenges we have faced and what accomplishments we have made together. I am excited about our future and can say, with certainty, we are more prepared now than ever to face it head-on, with the best interests of our fellow brothers and sisters at the forefront.

While the last few years have had their share of trials, I am confident better days are ahead.

Amit Bose, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Railroad Administration, was confirmed Jan. 12 after a long wait. His ascension is one more step toward a common-sense regulation of freight rail crew size with safety, not profits, in mind. TD leadership looks ahead with great anticipation as we continue building the relationship we have established with him and the federal Department of Transportation.

I am also pleased to note that the Biden administration nominee for the vacant position on the National Mediation Board, Deidre Hamilton, was installed. This creates a 2-to-1 Democratic majority and a much more labor-friendly board than what we have had to deal with the last four years. This confirmation likely spurred NMB to work on the logjam of requested representation elections ignored by the previous administration. Our Organizing Department has six cases filed and reported that ballots are out on five. We are hopeful we’ll be able to welcome these properties into the SMART family soon.

I hear you loud and clear that better working conditions (removing bad attendance policies and getting better quality of life) are at the top of your list of things that need fixed as soon as possible.

Of course, NMB will play a key role as we, along with the other Coordinated Bargaining Coalition unions, announced in late January that national rail contract discussions had reached an impasse. They will select a mediator whom we hope will move negotiations past the past two years’ worth of insulting offers that the carriers have presented and into a truly constructive and realistic phase. Our members deserve nothing less after moving America’s freight during this pandemic. I hear you loud and clear that better working conditions (removing bad attendance policies and getting better quality of life) are at the top of your list of things that need fixed as soon as possible. That is why we challenged BNSF’s draconian and punitive Hi Viz attendance policy. We will stand up to mistreatment of our members, especially when carriers continue to crow about record profits.

The last couple of years have seen membership numbers drastically decline, but I am thrilled to announce we have a new local, 1706, opening up in the Kansas City area for approximately 200 new members working for Student Transportation of America. Vice President Calvin Studivant has been working closely with these new members and has completed their first fully ratified agreement. Congratulations to our new bus members, and welcome!

I have been fortunate to be invited and to attend a number of union meetings, Labor Day events and holiday cookouts recently. This allowed me the opportunity to openly talk with the membership and update them on the state of our UNION. I am looking forward to many more of these face-to-face meetings in 2022. I hear you loud and clear that better working conditions (removing bad attendance policies and getting better quality of life) are at the top of your list of things that need fixed as soon as possible.

It has been frustrating that we have not had our normal annual regional meetings the last two years, but I must say that I am proud of a number of our state legislative directors and general chairpersons who stepped up and took matters into their own hands. They organized “Regional Training Seminars” that consist of a variety of training and classes for local officers. I was honored to be asked to address the groups and spend time with those in attendance. SMART-TD provided a number of the facilitators and additional support and that, along with the hard work of the aforementioned SLDs and GCs, made all of them huge successes.

These have been so impactful that we are planning on additional seminars to be scheduled next year. If this is something you have an interest in attending, please let your SLD or GC know. I look forward to seeing more of you in the coming year at these meetings!

“Solidarity” is a word we throw around a lot, but it is always an adrenaline rush when you see it in action. I was excited to be invited and participate in a huge rally in Chicago in November to assist the Metra Passenger Rail Coalition. All Metra crafts were fighting for a good contract after being faced with what seemed to be never-ending mediation. VP Jamie Modesitt, Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity and I didn’t need to be asked twice by GC Chip Waugh if we wanted in. The big blow-up rat and bullhorns blaring with the Chicago PD out to keep the crowd under control was exhilarating to say the least. We had local and state legislators and U.S. Reps. Chuy Garcia and Marie Newman show up to lend their support. It was yet another example of what organized labor can accomplish — together!

Your union also is continuing to get things done. We added many more features to the SMART app, making it more of a vital resource and advancing our technological presence. We’ve been able to adapt to a new way of leadership training with regional training seminars and coming soon our virtual educational efforts with SMART University. We are also developing a new website that will be more interactive, to name but a few.

There’s a lot going on and a lot more to come. I am excited and proud to be on this journey with you.

In closing, I ask that you do everything in your power to keep yourself and your fellow sisters and brothers safe on the job. Safety is a gift we give our families each and every day.

Please stay safe and God bless!

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division