Upwards of 70% of UPS employees are represented by the Teamsters Union. In one of the most prominent news stories of the summer, the Teamsters and UPS workers fought the good fight against the corporation and made large gains in their levels of pay and company-provided fringe benefit packages.

SMART-TD would like to echo many of the media’s responses and congratulate the Teamsters and especially our union brothers and sisters who do tireless work on the frontlines of UPS. However, it is worth pointing out that the wage and benefit increases gained in the wake of a 2022 Biden-appointed Presidential Emergency Board (PEB #250) are in many ways equal to, or better than, the commendable achievements of the Teamsters and UPS drivers, although our achievements received far less positive fanfare and attention from the media.

As many of us have seen in the news, UPS CEO Carol Tome made the eye-opening statement that drivers at UPS will now be making $170,000 annually. That got the attention of many of us in the rail industry, and at SMART-TD. When we looked closer at that statement, we identified some important nuances that this executive did not make apparent to the general public.

More specifically, the figure of $170,000 appears to be CEO Tome’s claim for the amount of total compensation, including fringe benefits, that Teamster-represented UPS drivers are estimated to receive at the conclusion of the five-year contract. As many SMART-TD members know, this is the same rhetoric that rail carriers and their analysts used during PEB #250, in their unsuccessful attempts to convince the PEB members and the general public that railroad employees were already generously compensated for the work that we do. We rejected those tactics then, and we reject them now from CEO Tome.

In researching this issue, we noted that CBS News recently reported that at the conclusion of five years’ worth of stepped raises, full-time Teamster-represented UPS drivers will be earning approximately $49/hr. Assuming a 40-hour work week, this adds up to a base annual salary of $101,920, pretax. CBS News also reported that the fringe benefit package for Teamster-represented UPS drivers adds up to approximately $50,000, for a total combined compensation of approximately $151,920.

Based on the above, it appears that in some rare circumstances, CEO Tome’s claims could be technically correct, provided that the UPS employee works a considerable amount of overtime. However, we do not believe that CEO Tome’s claims are representative of most UPS employees, and we object to her making statements that are undoubtedly intended to mislead people into believing that UPS drivers commonly receive a salary of $170,000.

As you can probably imagine, comparing a UPS driver’s total compensation package to a SMART-TD rail member’s compensation package is not a simple task. There are many factors that weigh into our salaries and compensation packages; seniority, assignment preferences, rail traffic/volume and work location, to name a few. When working on an extra board, sometimes our compensation depends on downright luck. The provisions of on-property agreements in effect at our specific work location negotiated by our General Committees of Adjustment and subject to ratification by the members on that specific property are another factor.

Over the last several decades, our organization has published an annual fringe benefits sheet intended to illustrate the monetary value of our hard-earned and well-deserved national benefits package.

In doing so, some assumptions must be made. These examples are illustrative of an experienced railroader with enough seniority to qualify for full vacation, with earnings that exceed the Railroad Retirement Tier II tax limit and meet the Railroad Retirement Tier I tax limit. This is done not to mislead, but to illustrate the maximum potential value of our fringe benefits.

With the above in mind, in our 2023 publication, our members’ annual fringe benefits are valued at nearly $75,000, which brings the members’ total compensation package to nearly $235,000.

In the case of a railroad member who earns $118,800 in compensation (Railroad Retirement Tier II tax limit) and qualifies for three weeks of vacation, their annual fringe benefits are valued at an estimated $63,000, for a total compensation package of close to $182,000. We believe that this estimation is representative of a much larger percentage of our members and is a fairer and more direct comparison to most UPS drivers.

When making this comparison, it is worth reiterating that the above estimates for railroad employees are based on 2023 data. UPS CEO Tome’s claims are based on estimates of what an experienced UPS driver will earn five years from now, nearing the expiration of the current contract.

We hope that this article sheds some additional light on the issue and helps our members, as well as the general public, better informed on these issues.

SMART-TD will continue our fight for exemplary wages and benefits that align with the essential work you do and the sacrifices you make. Together, we will continue to lead the way as the nation’s largest rail employee union, setting the standard for collective bargaining within our industry and beyond it.

Please take the time to follow this link to read a breakdown of Your Fringe Benefits prepared by the staff at SMART-TD’s International headquarters. Prior fringe benefit documents are available behind the SMART Member Portal.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, November 11 — At a November 9 Town Hall meeting, SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce discussed the tentative National Rail Agreement with dozens of members from both unions.

A video recording of the Town Hall (approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes) is available on the BLET and SMART TD websites.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, right, appears on Episode 5 of the Between the Rails podcast with host Jon Chaffin of Local 1313, left.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson appeared in a joint video with Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Dennis Pierce on Oct. 7 with both presenting facts regarding the Tentative Agreement (TA) being considered by rail labor.

President Ferguson also answered additional questions regarding the TA on a pair of episodes of the Between the Rails podcast over the weekend as well.

The joint video with the BLET can be seen here.

The first episode of Between the Rails that President Ferguson appeared on is available here.

The second episode of Between the Rails featuring President Ferguson is available here.

As of 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Friday, Oct. 7, the 15-day question-and-answer submission period concluded. The next steps in the process of considering the agreement will consist of meetings between legal representatives of both SMART-TD and the carriers that will address the questions posed by members and their General Chairpersons, and then coming to agreed-upon interpretations to answer these questions.

The completed Q&A document will be released in conjunction with the full text of the TA prior to the start of the 21-day TA balloting period toward the end of October.

A must-watch for all involved members of the SMART-TD and the BLET, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce have published a joint video regarding the tentative national freight agreement. The presidents describe the challenging political environment surrounding the negotiating process and outline the wages, work rules, and health & welfare benefits secured in the tentative deal.

For the first time in more than 30 years, this Union has taken the Railway Labor Act (RLA) to its limits. We negotiated. We mediated. We cooled off. We went all the way to a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) and then back into a cooling-off period again. The coordinated bargaining group was tasked with obtaining the best benefits possible, and we never stopped fighting.

I understand the desire amongst many of you to strike. I know the contempt the carriers treat you with at work and have faced it in negotiations. I agree that this nation needs to know and understand just how poorly you and your families are being treated by America’s Class I railroads. You sacrificed every day for the last several years in the face of this disregard for the sake of your families, your communities and this nation. Working through the pandemic, you endured as critical essential infrastructure workers. You put your health and safety on the line to ensure the world continued to function uninterrupted.

Our supply chain remained intact because of your efforts. How did the carriers respond? With nothing more than “labor doesn’t contribute to profits.” It is clear from not only their words, but also their actions that their sole focus was and still is to satisfy Wall Street investors and their constant desire to maximize profits.

In the face of all this, why did we not strike? It is not due to the RLA, but rather because of the commerce clause contained within the Constitution of the United States of America. The fact is, Congress would not risk any more harm to the supply chain than what the railroads have already committed since the advent of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). We were then faced with an ugly reality. We could refuse to negotiate any further and initiate the strike procedures, which, in turn, would have been blocked by Congress with the PEB imposed upon us, or we could come to a tentative agreement that then gives you a voice in these proceedings through a direct up or down vote. Beyond empowering each and every member in the process, the agreement opens new ground and cracks open the door to attendance policies being negotiated at the table, instead of through unilateral edicts from the carriers.

The fact is, Congress would not risk any more harm to the supply chain than what the railroads have already committed since the advent of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). We were then faced with an ugly reality. We could refuse to negotiate any further and initiate the strike procedures, which, in turn, would have been blocked by Congress with the PEB imposed upon us, or we could come to a tentative agreement that then gives you a voice in these proceedings through a direct up or down vote. Beyond empowering each and every member in the process, the agreement opens new ground and cracks open the door to attendance policies being negotiated at the table, instead of through unilateral edicts from the carriers.

From the beginning, it was clear that the carriers had no intent of negotiating in good faith. Their primary goal was to break our crew-consist agreements and force crew reductions upon us. In their list of items they wished to accomplish in negotiations (Section 6 notices) they included pay concessions from members so that you would actually have money taken away from you if their objective of single-person crews was rejected. Similarly, their proposed general wage increases (GWI) were a meager 11% with a tiered health care system that would subject you to a monthly premium (moving goal post) that was dependent upon their current health factors, the number of dependents in their respective households, and, in addition, drastic increases to deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

Needless to say, there was nothing gained during the early stages of negotiations. While you were hard at work risking your health and safety, the carriers were warm and cozy with the shareholders enjoying record profits while sitting quiet at the table, arms folded and with icy glares blanketly rejecting every proposal we put forth. We demanded our fair share, as you have seen in our published Section 6 Notices. They were absolutely unwilling to negotiate at any point. As a result, and after almost three years of the carriers’ stonewalling, the National Mediation Board (NMB) ordered the parties to mediation.

During mediation, the political climate became more influential, as the elected representatives who would eventually have oversight of our dispute were known to be more labor friendly. This caused the railroads’ bargaining unit to slightly loosen its position, which resulted in their new offer of a 16% GWI (a raise they coined – “reasonable”), but they still maintained their positions on drastic healthcare and work rule changes. Clearly, this fell well short of being acceptable, so we held strong, maintained our position and continued the battle.

Eventually, the parties were released from mediation because it was abundantly clear the carriers were not willing to engage in a conversation, much less meaningful negotiations, and given that we were at a standstill and making zero progress, the cooling-off period commenced.

The carriers drew their line in the sand from the very beginning and claimed that, in their opinion, your demands were excessive and undeserved. We had no other choice but to prepare for a strike; and that’s exactly what we did throughout the cooling-off period. While they were busy courting Wall Street and putting up smoke and mirrors to hide from their own customers and the Surface Transportation Board (STB), we were busy preparing for the first strike in more than 30 years.

The carriers drew their line in the sand from the very beginning and claimed that, in their opinion, your demands were excessive and undeserved. We had no other choice but to prepare for a strike; and that’s exactly what we did throughout the cooling-off period. While they were busy courting Wall Street and putting up smoke and mirrors to hide from their own customers and the Surface Transportation Board (STB), we were busy preparing for the first strike in more than 30 years.

Given your value and worth to this nation as the backbone of America’s economy, President Biden enacted his right, according to the RLA, to impose a PEB in a last-ditch effort for the two sides to reach an amicable agreement. The PEB appointments were publicly named, and given who was selected, we maintained faith that they would have labor’s best interests in mind.

The preparation for the PEB was immediate. Much like court, despite only having three jurors (PEB appointees) as opposed to the standard 12, we prepared to make three years’ worth of arguments in a five-day period. We stretched those days for everything we could to wage our strongest arguments for the highest priority of issues. This included a 28% GWI, no healthcare changes, 15 paid sick days, three additional holidays, a voluntary five-day work week for road service, scope rule and vacation pay changes for our yardmasters, and the abolishment of their egregious attendance policies. The carriers, of course, made all their standard rebuttal arguments on why you shouldn’t be entitled to any of our proposals, and what they wanted to gain from this process.

From day one of negotiations, we never backed down, and we never conceded to any of the items the carriers were demanding. Without question, we knew our only chance at success was to stand united and be willing to go the full distance under the RLA. Had any Union achieved or agreed to a tentative agreement prior to the PEB, it would have most likely established a potentially harmful precedence, which, historically, leaves the remaining unions to face that pattern as the most likely PEB recommendation.

Eventually, PEB 250 concluded and its jury made their ruling. Immediately it was clear the recommendations fell short. The quality-of-life issues we had fought so hard to achieve were negated, namely sick leave and the invalidation of attendance policies. Given that the additional holidays and sick leave were not included, the recommended wage increases should have been greater, and we had sound testimony to support it. The coalition hired an expert economist, and he clearly expressed what was needed in the form of an agreement to recruit and retain an adequate and talented workforce. Our stance was ignored, and the PEB members decided to meet both parties somewhere, theoretically, in the middle.

While this outcome fell short of our expectations, they did rule against the carriers’ proposal to force our crew-consist negotiations into an expedited arbitration (within six months of continued mediation), in addition to denying any forfeiture of pay raises where conductors remain in the cab of a locomotive. The board also rejected the railroads’ proposal for drastic changes to our healthcare plans which would have had long-term financial impacts on the members when they or their dependents received medical care or preventative exams. We were also successful with our position to achieve much-needed changes to the healthcare plan with respect to speech therapy, Autism Spectrum Disorder and an increase in hearing benefits.

While this outcome fell short of our expectations, they did rule against the carriers’ proposal to force our crew-consist negotiations into an expedited arbitration (within six months of continued mediation), in addition to denying any forfeiture of pay raises where conductors remain in the cab of a locomotive.

Additionally, the PEB recommended our position for rest days, but in doing so, commingled this into their decision with the carriers’ demand to implement automatic bids (ABS) and self-supporting pools (SSP) (with modifications to pool/extra board regulations). I want to be very clear that neither SMART-TD nor the BLE-T argued in support of the ABS or SSP. Unfortunately, these were two items that the carriers were successful in receiving, along with the return of the 15% monthly contribution for healthcare premiums.

Following the PEB, it was clear the carriers were not happy with what they had received. This proved to be detrimental to our collective bargaining process as the recommendation would serve as the foundation for any possible agreement moving forward. The carriers were adamant that we would not receive anything more than what was contained within the PEB, period! While most of the other Unions accepted the recommendation as written, we were determined to get more, we dug in, did not waver and continued the fight.

My objective during this time was two-fold; prepare for a national strike and negotiate additional benefits for our members in excess of the PEB recommendations. As a leader, this decision was tough. I had just as many members telling me they wanted to vote on the recommendation as I did that wanted to strike. In addition, I do not agree with, nor will be party to any attempt to restrict your right to vote. You sacrificed too much to not have a say in this process.

So, we pressed on until the 12th hour, when the political powers made it clear, regardless of what was portrayed in the media, that we would not be allowed to shut down America’s supply chain. In the final hours, we were successful in obtaining more, in spite of the headwinds and all who stated it was not possible.

In the final hours, we were successful in obtaining more, in spite of the headwinds and all who stated it was not possible.

As President of this Union, I will not sell members on this tentative agreement. It is my responsibility and duty to provide you with factual information and allow you to make an educated choice, based on the facts presented, that serves you and your family’s interest. Further, it would have been reckless of me to put your fate in the hands of politicians who know very little of the plight of a modern railroad worker in today’s PSR environment. Therefore, as it should be, the vote is now yours. No matter what your collective decision is, I will work to ensure it is heard and is acted upon.

In solidarity,

Jeremy Ferguson,
President — Transportation Division

Jeremy Ferguson, President, SMART Transportation Division and Dennis Pierce, President, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Teamsters Rail Conference, on move announced by the nation’s largest railroads to further abuse shippers and gridlock the supply chain in order to extort a contract settlement from rail unions:

CLEVELAND — Late on Friday, September 9, the nation’s largest railroads began warning major shippers that they are declaring an embargo on certain types of new shipments five days in advance of the end of the federally mandated cooling-off period at 12:00 AM EDT September 16. They further advised that all rail shippers could be blocked from making any rail shipments well in advance of next Friday’s deadline for a lockout or strike. This completely unnecessary attack on rail shippers by these highly profitable Class I railroads is no more than corporate extortion.

Our Unions remain at the bargaining table and have given the rail carriers a proposal that we would be willing to submit to our members for ratification, but it is the rail carriers that refuse to reach an acceptable agreement. In fact, it was abundantly clear from our negotiations over the past few days that the railroads show no intentions of reaching an agreement with our Unions, but they cannot legally lock out our members until the end of the cooling-off period. Instead, they are locking out their customers beginning on Monday and further harming the supply chain in an effort to provoke congressional action.

The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our Unions to cave into their contract demands knowing that our members would never accept them. Our Unions will not cave into these scare tactics, and Congress must not cave into what can only be described as corporate terrorism.

Rather than gridlock the supply chain by denying shipments and potentially locking our members out next Friday, the railroads should work towards a fair settlement that our members, their employees, would ratify. For that to happen, we must make improvements to the working conditions that have been on the bargaining table since negotiations began. Penalizing engineers and conductors for getting sick or going to a doctor’s visit with termination must be stopped as part of this contract settlement. Let us repeat that, our members are being terminated for getting sick or for attending routine medical visits as we crawl our way out of a worldwide pandemic.

No working-class American should be treated with this level of harassment in the workplace for simply becoming ill or going to a routine medical visit. Sadly, the Presidential Emergency Board recommendation got it wrong on this issue. As we have said from the day that they were implemented, these policies are destroying the lives of our members, who are the backbone of the railroad industry.

These employment policies have forced thousands of employees out of the industry and make it all but impossible to recruit new workers. With understaffed operations, these railroads abuse their best customers by refusing to provide deliveries consistent with their legal obligations. These self-appointed titans of industry complain constantly about government regulation and interference — except now when it comes to breaking the backs of their employees. It’s time for the federal government to tell the CEO’s who are running the nation’s railroads into the ground that enough is enough. Congress should stay out of the rail dispute and tell the railroads to do what other business leaders do — sit down and bargain a contract that your employees will accept.


The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The following is a statement from SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce.

CLEVELAND, (September 2) — As we approach Labor Day 2022, our Unions stand at a crossroads. While our normal messages heading into one of the most important days for Organized Labor would be about Labor’s proud history of improving the lives of working-class Americans, we are embroiled in the ongoing effort to obtain a National Freight Agreement worthy of our members’ consideration.

We know there are vastly different opinions amongst our collective memberships on what should happen next, and the democratic principles that drive our Unions give each member the right to their own opinion. Although current opinions may vary, there are other things that apply equally to us all.

It has become clear in our post-Presidential Emergency Board (“PEB”) negotiations with the rail carriers that they are counting on the Federal Government to come to their aid if we are unable to reach a Tentative Agreement, and so far, we have not reached an Agreement. The same rail carriers that complain about government intervention when the Federal Railroad Administration proposes a rulemaking on crew size, and also shudder at the thought of the Surface Transportation Board issuing regulations that would help shippers, now all but hide behind Congress, refusing so far to negotiate terms our members would accept and ratify. While there are no guarantees for either side as to what Congress might do if they are involved, there is no doubt that the rail carriers expect Congress to intervene to save them from dealing fairly with their employees if there is a job action; Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz so much as publicly said that earlier in the week.

It is also clear that SMART-TD and BLET have been carved out from the rest of Rail Labor as we were the only Unions that the carriers insisted upon work rule changes from throughout the PEB hearing. Our Unions’ members have also borne the brunt of inept crew management, life-changing attendance policies, and working conditions over the past years that are making it all but impossible for rail carriers to hire and retain operating employees. As such, SMART-TD and BLET members are situated differently at this stage of the negotiations than the members of most of the other Rail Unions.

Knowing that, we should not fault the Unions who have decided to allow their members the right to decide their own fate through a ratification vote. As we reach the end of the Railway Labor Act negotiating process, all of our contracts will soon be settled, one way or the other. Allowing the membership to decide how that happens is at the very core of the labor movement, and our Unions will not interfere in the decision by other Rail Unions to vote upon a Tentative Agreement based upon the PEB’s recommendations.

Instead, we will continue to concentrate our efforts on obtaining Tentative Agreements for our members that are worthy of their consideration. Our goal is to reach an agreement that could be ratified because SMART-TD and BLET members also have the right to control their own futures through the democratic principles that give them the right to vote on and approve contracts.

One thing is now certain, obtaining such an agreement would be much more likely if Congress took a long Labor Day break and allowed the parties to work out their issues without intervention from the Federal Government. While we know that many SMART-TD and BLET members would like to strike their carriers for any number of reasons, it should not take a job action to reach an agreement worthy of their consideration. We call on Congress to stay out of our dispute, and if you do, we are confident that the rail carriers will move from their current positions and settle with their employees in a fashion that could be ratified.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy Labor Day,

President Jeremy Ferguson, SMART-TD

President Dennis Pierce, BLET

The following is a joint statement from SMART TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis Pierce:

CLEVELAND, Ohio, August 27, 2022 — On Monday, August 22, the SMART TD and BLET, along with the other remaining United Rail Unions, met with the Rail Carriers via Zoom to determine if PEB 250’s recommendations could serve as a basis for a tentative agreement. In-person meetings were then held on Thursday and Friday in Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately, the meetings did not result in any tentative agreement language that operating crafts would accept, or that could be presented to our members for ratification.

Although no tentative agreement was reached this week, SMART TD and BLET remain committed to negotiating over issues that are most important to our members, including wages, quality of life, and attendance as well as voluntary time off issues. In addition to those issues, we are seeking clarification on certain aspects of PEB 250’s recommendations concerning health and welfare.

We will continue to keep our members updated as the cooling-off period countdown clock to 12:01 a.m. (eastern time) on September 16th approaches. Our goal is and always has been to reach a voluntary agreement that is worthy of our membership’s consideration. As we approach the final stages of the steps of the Railway Labor Act, we appreciate our members’ continued support. We have made it abundantly clear to the Carriers that we are prepared and willing to exercise every legal option available to us, to achieve the compensation and working conditions that we and our families rightfully expect and deserve.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson issued the following statement on Aug. 18, 2022:

On Tuesday, August 16, 2022, Presidential Emergency Board 250 (PEB 250) provided the White House with its recommendations for settlement between the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) and the United Rail Unions coalition. And while the recommendations of PEB 250 were a vast improvement over the carriers’ previous proposals, the recommendations do not go far enough to provide our members with the quality of life that they have earned, and that both they and their families deserve.

Last month, the leaders of the dozen-strong United Rail Unions delivered impassioned and technically sound presentations before the PEB expressing the need for improvements to quality-of-life issues, including addressing the draconian carrier attendance policies and the need for more paid and scheduled time off. However, it would seem as if these were not deemed as key issues. Obviously, our preference was for the PEB to make firm and bold changes to that status quo, but, unfortunately, they deferred and moved these important issues back to the domain of arbitration.

Additionally, the PEB recommended a 22 percent cumulative, 24 percent compounded, raise in compensation, which, if passed, would be the largest raise rail labor has seen in 47 years, but falls well short of our proposed benchmark to provide our members, most of whom have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and have brought about the richest era in railroading history, with a rate of pay of which they are deserving and that will attract new talent. Our organizations presented real-time statistics that exhibited how our remaining members are left to shoulder the additional workload after seeing valued co-workers laid off or resigning as a direct effect of Precision Scheduled Railroading. Furthermore, it is unknown if the recommended wage and benefit package will assist in retaining workers, let alone recruit new employees into the industry. Only in time, if accepted, will we be able to correctly answer that question, but based on our initial feedback, the outlook is not good.

SMART-TD leaders made our case clear before the PEB in July that our membership and the membership of the other unions deserve better, especially in recognition of what we accomplished before, during and after the pandemic. Our position has not changed, nor have we wavered from it. We are and will continue to fight for each and every one of our members, seeking the best possible outcome in all that we engage in.

Truthfully, your union negotiators feel a level of disappointment with the PEB’s recommendations falling short on many of our requests — especially as it split the difference between what Labor and the carriers were seeking from a wage perspective, rather than choosing one over the other. While it is a slight comfort knowing that these results are still better than those the carriers previously proposed and what likely would have been obtained under the previous administration, it does little to alleviate the division between the hedge fund managers, shareholders, and railroad officers — those who have obtained record profits, bonuses, stock buybacks and lower operating ratios all the while sitting in their climate-controlled, sanitized corporate offices — while the working people, their employees, our members, fellow brothers, and sisters are on call 24/7/365, working safely, loyally, moving America’s freight and citizens.

The decision on whether to accept a tentative agreement that could be based on these recommendations may ultimately lie in the hands of those same workers whose passion and determination carried the country through a pandemic and a supply-chain crisis.

Although we share your frustration, our effort towards attaining the best possible contract for our membership will not be deterred. This is but the first step in the process, so please be patient as this situation continues to evolve. We are currently gathering and evaluating information, which includes input from the membership, as we weigh the PEB’s recommendations and what our options may be. The remaining members of the coalition will be meeting with the NRLC in the very near future to determine if a possible tentative agreement can be reached as a result of these recommendations.

In the meantime, we will be presenting factual information strictly based on the PEB recommendations in an effort to educate all involved what this could look like from a financial standpoint when evaluating GWI’s, back pay, or the 15% cost sharing associated with your health and welfare plan. These presentations will be without the opinion of SMART-TD in an effort to strictly dispel any misconceptions or misunderstandings of how these critical components should be reviewed at this time.

In solidarity,

Jeremy R. Ferguson

President, SMART Transportation Division

Brothers and Sisters of our unions:

Presidential Emergency Board (“PEB” or “the Board”) 250 conducted hearings in Washington, D.C. this past week, concluding on July 28th. We both were honored to represent our unions and, by extension, the memberships of the dozen strong United Rail Unions as we presented and testified in support of our unified case to the PEB. We are sharing this joint message to ensure that our members are up to date on all of the bargaining round issues.

For the first time in history, the 12 United Rail Unions, representing 115,000 members in every craft in the industry, presented a unified case on wages, healthcare, sick leave and holidays to the Board. Also for the first time in history, SMART-TD and BLET presidents made joint presentations on our unions’ proposals to eliminate carrier-imposed attendance policies, provide for voluntary rest days for road crews, and to increase away-from-home terminal meal allowances. In addition, BLET Director of Benefits Dan Cook, who also serves as the Cooperating Railway Labor Organizations’ administrator, testified in support of the United Rail Unions’ unified Health and Welfare proposal and SMART-TD VP Brent Leonard testified in opposition to the crew consist issues that the carriers attempted to improperly raise in this proceeding.

At the conclusion of the first day of hearings on July 24, and in an effort to keep our memberships current on the status of the bargaining round, the United Rail Unions released summaries of our final proposals before the Board, as well as the carriers’ final proposals. Those proposals are still available on our union websites. We encourage all members to take the time to review them, and more importantly, realize just how far apart the two sides remain after more than two and a half years of negotiations.

As has been said since an update from the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition in January 2021 and in every update from rail labor since, it is also important to remember who is responsible for the absence of an acceptable National Rail Contract settlement. By reviewing the carriers’ final proposal presented before the PEB, it remains all too evident that they continue to refuse to make a realistic and worthy proposal that our voting members would ratify. That is why our contract dispute has reached a PEB, one of the final steps under the Railway Labor Act.

Regarding the unions’ final presentation before the PEB, it’s important to see how the union leadership arrived at their final proposal. Both parties served Section 6 notices in this round of bargaining at the start of negotiations in late 2019. Those notices are a mandatory starting point in the bargaining process, and generally include every item on which each individual union seeks to negotiate. As the parties negotiate, each side’s list of issues is prioritized to ensure that the most important ones are addressed in the ultimate contract settlement.

This bargaining round was no different. Based on membership feedback, several items were initially identified early on as key priorities including, increasing wages, rejecting concessions on healthcare, addressing unreasonable attendance policies and paid sick leave, and establishing predictable time away from work. The need for paid sick leave without penalty became even more evident with the pandemic and the manpower shortages caused by carriers’ continued mismanagement.

Leadership of the SMART-TD and BLET collaborated on presenting our craft-specific issues throughout negotiations and collaborated with our entire bargaining coalition on our shared issues. But, as is now obvious, the carriers refused to engage in meaningful bargaining on our most important issues. Multiple proposals were exchanged over these last two and a half years, including varying wage proposals, all in an effort to come to a voluntary agreement worthy of ratification by the membership.

Nowhere else was the distance between the sides more evident than in the discussion of wages. Contracts of both five- and six-year durations were proposed and discussed, driving differing values for the wage package. Our last unified wage proposal as we were released from mediation in June contained a six-year proposal with wage increases occurring July 1st of each year totaling 40%, with 36% of that payable in the first five years. In contrast, in January of 2022, the carriers’ proposed wage increase totaling 11% and their last proposal as we were released from mediation was a five-year proposal with wage increases occurring on July 1st of each year totaling 14%.

With a gap that wide, it was no surprise that voluntary efforts, as well as mandatory government-sponsored mediation, failed to reach an agreement. Once the parties were released from mediation, the United Rail Unions immediately began work preparing their final unified proposal to be presented to the PEB. That process included union leaders, the unions’ collective legal counsel, health care experts, and an expert economist. In the end, the unions agreed to present the summarized proposal shared with our memberships on July 24 at the close of the first day of hearings.

Before we get into the wage proposal numbers, it is important to understand the status of our negotiations as we went before the PEB. The PEB is not the start of negotiations. As explained above, the start of the negotiations happened when our lengthy Section 6 notices were served in 2019. Further, the PEB hearing is not a negotiation; it is an opportunity for both sides to present their final proposals, which must be supported with extensive economic data through live testimony. In this case, the hearing spanned five days, where both parties made presentations by expert witnesses to support their proposals. 

In crafting the unions’ final wage proposal, and knowing that those proposals had to be supported by our expert economist, an in-depth analysis was conducted — taking into account long-term wage growth, past and present, as well as increases in the cost of living for the years covered by the agreement. Consideration also had to be given to the financial value of the other non-wage proposals going before the PEB as part of crafting a final proposal that we believe the Board would recommend.

In the period between the close of NMB mediation in June and the PEB hearings in July, and after consultation with the unions’ economic expert, the unions determined that the wage proposal that could be best supported by our economic data was a final, unified proposal totaling a 28% gross wage increase (GWI), uncompounded, over five years. While some saw that move from our previous position of 36% over five years as too big, it is not certain that they understood the proposal’s other terms.

One other component of our final proposal was to move from the July 1 annual wage increase dates in our 36% proposal, to annual January 1 wage increases. The effect of this change is fairly simple math — paying each raise six months sooner doubles the value of each wage increase in the year it is applied.  In fact, on a base salary of $100,000, advancing the GWI schedule by six months each year generates additional compensation of over $15,000 during the term of the agreement as compared to July 1 annual increases. For someone with a base salary of $75,000, the advancement generates additional compensation of over $11,000 during the term of the Agreement — vastly reducing the financial gap between the 28% and prior 36% proposals. On the same base salaries, the unified proposal with the earlier effective dates would also generate in excess of $20,000 and $16,000, respectively, in back pay for the years 2020, 2021 and 2022. 

While we do not agree that it should impact the PEB decision, the history of wage increases in our National Agreements was part of the carriers’ presentation in opposition to not only our proposed wage increase values, but also against the earlier annual increase dates. That history is straightforward; no National Agreement in the past 45 years has included GWIs totaling over 18% for a five-year period. Regardless of that history, our economist clearly laid out the economic support for the 28% wage proposal presented to the PEB. 

Our health and welfare experts also made the case that no additional health and welfare costs should be pushed onto employees. We made the case for needed sick days and additional holidays for all involved Unions. We made a joint case for eliminating all non-negotiated attendance policies, allowing General Committees to serve notice to compel on-property bargaining for voluntary rest days, and improvements to our held away meal allowances.

All in all, the United Rail Unions made a sound, reasonable case before the PEB.  We must thank our team’s legal counsel, health care experts, expert economist and all of the witnesses who gave testimony on behalf of our United Rail Unions. In the coming weeks, we will receive the PEB’s recommendations for settlement of our dispute and then consider them.

While it was not possible, we also wish every member of every union could have attended the hearings before PEB 250 and to have had a chance to testify on their own behalf about the conditions, the struggles, and the situations that carriers have created for the people whose work brings them profit. Through their actions, and in the case of these drawn-out negotiations, their inaction, the carriers’ cavalier and pay-no-heed attitude toward our brothers and sisters who did the work through a pandemic, through job cuts and through an ongoing supply chain crisis could not be clearer. They do not care to either understand or respect their employees. Some of their assertions, such as how happy their employees are, were beyond belief — even to those of us that have heard their spin before. We refuted them all.

Following the recommendations of the PEB, the parties have another 30-day cooling off period to consider the recommendations and reach an agreement. If the carriers continue to refuse to make a ratifiable proposal, very critical decisions will have to be made during that period. As has been said time and again, do not listen to the carrier moles and trolls that attempt to blame this situation on the employees or their Unions. They are only attempting to divide us as we close in on the final months of this round of bargaining. Among our unions, our solidarity is our strength. Please do not allow those attempting to divide us to succeed.

In solidarity,

President Jeremy Ferguson

SMART Transportation Division

President Dennis Pierce,

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen