A conductor watches Canton RR locomotive 1906 pull forward on July 3. (Photo courtesy George Pitz of the Canton Railroad Past & Present Facebook group).

SMART Transportation Division represents roughly 100,000 members across the United States. With much of our time and efforts focused on helping large properties that affect thousands of members at a time, it is easy to understand how our brothers and sisters who work for smaller outfits and short line railroads could feel that their accomplishments are overshadowed by the events happening on a more national scale involving the behemoth Class I carriers.

The reality is that SMART-TD is the biggest and best labor union in transportation, and we have the capacity to focus on many issues and areas simultaneously. An example of the commitment this union has to even its smallest groups of members occurred Thursday, July 20 in the Baltimore, Md. area.

The Canton Railroad Co. is a small freight operation outside of Baltimore that services the shipping docks there. SMART-TD represents all the transportation crafts at this property. Under their current contract, these workers were given nothing but 2% annual increases. These “raises” didn’t do much to take the edge off the cost of living in a major metropolitan area on the East Coast.

As these members were up for a new contract, SMART-TD General Chairperson Tommy Gholson (GO-898) went to Baltimore and was enlisted to fight on their behalf.

In his words, when General Chairperson Gholson got to the property, he couldn’t help but notice that for an operation with four front-line employees, it had three executives on the property to negotiate on behalf of the carrier. Not only did this indicate to Brother Gholson that the organization was obviously top-heavy, but it indicated that the Canton Railroad Co. was doing just fine financially. The other crafts on the property had negotiated for 8% raises over the next four years, which was significantly higher than the increase the company was offering our SMART-TD members and had agreed to in the recent past.

Needless to say, when the carrier attempted to explain how they could not afford to agree to higher wage increases because they were in hard times, Brother Gholson did not accept their story.

At the conclusion of the rather one-sided negotiations, Brother Gholson and the SMART-TD Local 610 members had obtained a tentative agreement offering them a 15.83% compounded wage increase over the life of the agreement. In addition, our members also had locked in a cap to their health and welfare costs in their agreement that froze their employee contribution for four years. Not only was this new agreement a massive increase from the historical trend, but it also roughly doubled the pay increases negotiated by other unions for the other crafts working on the Canton Railroad Co.

The tentative agreement was quickly ratified by a unanimous vote.

General Chairperson Gholson wanted to make sure that all Local 610 members appreciated how vital a role their local representatives played in this successful negotiation.

“From starting off with the Section 6 process to the ratification of this agreement, Local Chairperson Rob Levine was instrumental in getting his members a fair deal,” Gholson said. “He wasn’t willing to take ‘no’ for an answer on the issues that meant the most for his crew base. From wages to health and wellness, Brother Levine fought the good fight and knocked it out of the park.”

For his part in this negotiation, Local Chairperson Levine said, “We’re putting our life on the line each and every day. These crews deserve to be compensated for that. You can’t put a price tag on a life, but you can recognize the facts on the ground and compensate the men and women accordingly.”

SMART-TD would like to congratulate the Local 610 members of the Canton Railroad Co., and we would also like to thank General Chairperson Gholson and Local Chairperson Levine for their efforts in making sure that all the hard-working men and women in this organization are well represented!

On June 2, 2023, SMART Transportation Division members represented by General Committees of Adjustment GO-898, GO-687 and GO-680, have voted to ratify their tentative agreement with Norfolk Southern and will benefit from increased wages, as well as improvements to their quality of life.

Eligible members participating in the vote approved the new contract with approximately 60% in favor of ratification.

The ratified contract provides for:

  • Additional time off and scheduled rest days;
  • 5 paid sick days with the option to convert up to 2 personal leave days to on-demand sick days;
  • Unused personal leave days can now be carried over and accumulated indefinitely, with no limitations;
  • More predictable scheduling process to use paid leave and vacation days;
  • Compensation increases beyond those already provided for via national bargaining, with shift differential pay for weekend assignments;
  • Continuous detention/held-away pay beginning after 15 hours, paid continuously until the on-duty time at the away-from-home terminal;
  • Increased away-from-home terminal meal allowances;
  • More predictable work and flexibility in time off.

General Chairpersons Tommy Gholson (GO-898), Jim Ball (GO-687), David Phillips (GO-680), Assistant General Chairpersons Andrew Evans (GO-680), Jason Roberts (GO-898) and Brian Sharkey (GO-687), along with SMART-TD Vice President Brent Leonard, negotiated the now-ratified agreement.

Following the tabulation of votes on June 2nd, General Chairperson Ball said, “This is a proud day for all of us who were involved in getting this agreement hammered out. We got our brothers and sisters more compensation, better schedules, and the dignity that comes with having paid sick days so we can take care of our families and not get our coworkers sick in the meantime.”

General Chairperson Gholson said, “These changes have been a long time coming. Our members have been screaming especially for the quality-of-life upgrades that came with this agreement, but in this industry, those improvements have to be fought for. Nothing is given. We knew that going in, and with the help of Vice President Leonard, we got our members a great deal. We want everyone involved to know that we addressed every issue we set out to address and a little more, but the fight is far from over. We have momentum, and we aren’t done advocating for the front-line workers of Norfolk Southern.”

For his part in this win, GC David Phillips said, “This agreement is historic not only for what it brings to the table for the train service crafts, but it also raised the bar to the degree that engineers will see the quality-of-life enhancements negotiated by SMART-TD. The language we worked on for five months set a pattern and a high bar that required the carrier to extend those enhancements
to other crafts. As such, every member of our crew rooms are able to benefit from the fortitude of SMART-TD.

“I have worked as a SMART engineer, and speaking as a SMART engineer, it is very satisfying to see the hard work of SMART benefit those of us working in the Enginemen craft.”

Vice President Leonard was quick to recognize the hard work, professionalism, and experience that the NS general chairpersons brought to the bargaining table was the key to the success of this agreement. He said, “I want to start by congratulating the SMART-TD members of Norfolk Southern on the significant pay raises and quality of life improvements they just obtained. General Chairpersons Phillips, Gholson, and Ball deserve ample recognition for their dedication to hammering out this historic agreement. This is a big win for those General Committees and the members they represent.”

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson’s reaction to the ratification announcement was, “The rail industry has always been built on the backs of conductors and trainmen. Our NS members and their elected representatives have stood up for themselves and demanded to be compensated both financially and with lifestyle improvements that are more in line with the importance of the work they do. I am excited to see these well-earned victories with sick days and schedule flexibility, and I am hopeful that this win for our NS brothers and sisters leads the way towards similar improvements across the industry.”