In May of 2023, SMART dealt a major blow to Union Pacific when, after four years, we successfully received an arbitration award that sustained our claim for protective benefits for five SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) members that were furloughed by the carrier and replaced with contractors.

On October 1, 2019, Union Pacific sent a notice to SMART stating that it was furloughing nine employees working in the Water Service Department, and that the carrier intended to contract out the work. Union Pacific refused to follow the black letter of the collective bargaining agreement and instead arbitrarily selected which of the furloughed employees would receive protective benefits, denying benefits to others.

SMART filed a claim on behalf of the members that were refused protective benefits, and the case was heard before a Special Board of Adjustment in 2021. The claim was originally denied by the arbitrator; however, SMART asserted that the board’s decision was not based on the clear language of the agreement and filed a motion to vacate in district court. The court agreed with SMART and remanded the case back to the arbitrator, which meant going through the entire arbitration process a second time.

“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job. The money will go a long way.”

RME member Don Yei

The case was heard again in March 2023 — and SMART prevailed. Union Pacific was ordered to provide protective benefits to the members’ choosing based on the options set forth in the agreement. In total, these SMART members will receive more than $840,000 in protective benefits.

“Union Pacific is a huge railroad, and it fought hard to deny the members what was rightfully theirs,” said International Representative Joe Fraley, who handled the case. “But even when times got tough, the members had SMART’s back — and SMART had theirs. Together, we fought smarter, we fought harder, and we won. That’s what being SMART is all about.”

“I am honored and humbled to represent the members — the members are the real heroes here, and they deserve every penny that they will receive,” he added. “We would not have done it without all of us working together. We would not have done it without being SMART.”

For the victorious members, the case demonstrates the material difference of union solidarity.

“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job,” said RME member Don Yei. “The money will go a long way.”

Since 1998, trains coming across the Mexican border to the United States in Laredo, Texas, have been run by crews from Mexico that are not certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). These crews have been taking trains into Port Laredo, where they receive an initial Class I inspection and brake test on U.S. soil.

This practice was established back in 1998, when Union Pacific requested a variance from FRA. The variance was reconfirmed in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018 and was reapplied for in 2022. For years, the agency’s leaders responded to any request for renewal by saying, “Yes — if the railroad asked for it, it must be OK.”

But in 2023 — unlike the four prior requests — SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson, National Legislative Director Greg Hynes, Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity and Kamron Saunders, Texas’s state legislative director, officially requested FRA put an end to this practice. Along with our allies in the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department and other rail labor organizations, SMART-TD submitted strong public comments that pointed out many holes in the logic.

In October, FRA released its ruling on UP’s variance request. The carrier will continue to be allowed to perform Class I brake tests 10 miles into the U.S. in its yard in Port Laredo, Texas. However, in a clear victory for labor, a new rule was added:

“13. All trains crossing the international bridge at Laredo and destined for UP’s Port Laredo Yard must be operated from the bridge to that Yard by a properly qualified and certified UP locomotive engineer and conductor.”

Local Chairperson Eddy Castaneda of Local 1670 (Laredo, Texas) is also vice general chairperson of the San Antonio Hub, and explained that he is highly excited about the news out of the FRA.

“It has been a long fight to get this work back, and this is a big win for us. It wouldn’t have been possible without everyone working together,” he said. “All the local chairs in the Laredo Hub — Scott Chelette, our general committee chair, and Kamron Saunders, our Texas state legislative director — as well as the International, have been relentless: working on Congress and the FRA to get these jobs back in the hands of FRA-certified crews.

“We are grateful for those of us here in Laredo, but we have a long fight still to go. There are many other border crossings and a lot more crew bases we need to fight for.”

President Ferguson was in Texas at a Houston rail labor rally shortly after the FRA released its ruling.

“The carriers involved gave our work to non-FRA-certified foreign national crews a long time ago to save a buck for their shareholders,” he said at the time. “Today, our members got back some work that is rightfully ours, and this country is safer and better off for it. I’m proud of the work SMART-TD has done to make this happen.”

Cassity said FRA’s action is a step towards normalizing cross-border regulation.

“It is great that we got this work back for our crews, but the big-picture win is that FRA listened to SMART-TD,” he explained. “They listened to the views of Kamron Saunders and didn’t blindly swallow whatever the railroads tried to sell them. This FRA isn’t afraid to deny the railroad what they want if it isn’t the safest policy for our workers and the country itself.”

For more information, read FRA’s ruling embedded below. 

On Thursday, January 18, the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) and its new “All in it to win it” PR campaign were spotlighted in an article from Progressive Railroading.

In it, UP’s CEO Jim Vena and his team of executives did their best to paint a happy picture of a thriving company driven by the best interest of their frontline employees and heading in the right direction as a united front. This must come as a surprise to our brothers and sisters working for the UP.

Judging by the skyrocketing number of our members being disciplined and taken out of service under Vena’s new “12 Critical Safety Rules” policy, it is hard to imagine these conductors and engineers feel the same. Vena may very well have a “workplace family” at UP as laid out in the article, but it appears that labor is clearly not valued nor a part of it.

This new policy that took effect January 1 is the discipline policy equivalent of BNSF’s Hi-Viz attendance policy.

If this uptick of discipline cases was part of a larger push by the railroad to emphasize safety at UP, it would make some sense. However, that is not the case by any means. First, UP has yet to comply with the mandate from Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to join the federal close call reporting system known as C3RS. Any authentic corporate move toward an improved safety culture would have participation in this program as a cornerstone of the effort. Second, per a letter sent to UP’s Vice President of Labor Relations on January 5 by the five SMART-TD General Chairpersons who represent UP members, the carrier’s corporate culture has not made any such move toward safety.

In the GCs’ letter, they point out that UP has reduced training periods for new employees, as well as reducing refresher trips for current employees, along with reducing training periods in yards for foremen. UP has also done away with full-time safety positions. To say this company is instituting the absurdly strict discipline policy as part of an overall strategy to promote safety is simply disingenuous corporate propaganda.

At the heart of SMART-TD’s concerns over the new discipline policy is the harshness of the penalties, the scare tactics management uses to keep employees from working with their union, and that a second offense in two years results in a dismissal charge. All three of these directly contrast with the picture of the organization they painted for Progressive Railroading. This graph produced by UP displays these three points better than can be described.

Could this simply be another game of three-card Monte? Is UP using alleged “safety” violations as a knife to cut out employees instead of furloughing the employees? Does UP believe harsher punishment along with prior cuts to maintenance personnel produce the gain in profits needed in its 2.0 version of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR)?

This 12 Critical Safety Rules policy is designed to ensure that no one walking the ballast for UP has any sense of job security. At the same time, it’s designed to strategically drive a wedge between members and their union. The fact that involving your local chairperson in the process and having a hearing instantly doubles your probation period from 12 months to 24 and tacks on an instant 30 days on the street, is a straightforward message that UP does not want SMART-TD to intervene on our members’ behalf.

Perhaps this is a direct response to SMART-TD’s recent uptick in our win percentage against the carrier. Our UP local chairpersons and general committees have been victorious on appeals at a rate that is unprecedented. Our members are getting put back to work and retro pay is flowing into our locals at a steadily increasing rate.

Class I railroad empires were not built on a business model that tolerates fairness or even-handed treatment of their workforce. That is why the word “railroaded” is defined on dictionary.com as “to force a person into an action with haste or by unfair means.” There is no better way to describe how UP is “incentivizing” our members to sign waivers to avoid the looming hammer of discipline that arises from this new policy.

To be even more cynical about UP’s motives surrounding this policy, it feels as though they are using mass discipline in 2024 to avoid the need to furlough employees. In 2022 and 2023, UP came under federal scrutiny about the contrast between their mass furloughs and job cutting and their inability to honor their contractual obligations to service their customers. On two occasions the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) had to step in and order UP to service customers who had filed complaints. The list of customers that were “embargoed” due to lack of manpower hit astronomical levels and with over 1,000 customers in 2022, per reporting from Railway Age Magazine.

Public and customer pressure has been widely applied to UP and other Class I railroads to address staffing levels and to service the American economy the way our nation’s railroads have been consistently relied upon to do since the 1860s. In short, it would be a bad look for the company to continue to furlough employees. Such would invite further scrutiny from the STB.

With furloughs off the table, the new discipline policy will put our members on the street en masse. UP is seemingly using the blanket 30-day suspension of its employees as a rolling furlough, ensuring that a large percentage of its T&E employees are off the payroll at all times. These 30-day penalties are enforced on the first offense an employee is accused of, with dismissal on the line for a second offense within 24 months.

Ironically, in the Progressive Railroading article, CEO Vena professes quite a different view on making mistakes on the job. In the article, he’s quoted as saying, “Since people in the field predominantly will execute change, sometimes their decisions will turn out to be errors. That’s to be expected and it’s OK to make mistakes because vast improvements sometimes require the courage to make hard decisions.”

In the article, Vena went deeper into this subject saying, “No one is perfect — mistakes will be made. I have made mistakes.”

As he notes, it is not only OK to make mistakes, but it is to be expected. In his own words, these errors in the field are a natural product of our members executing the changes he has brought to how UP does business.

But even the worst baseball player gets three strikes before they’re out. At UP, as a rail employee working under this policy, you get one, perhaps two.

Since CEO Vena has come clean on the fact that he, in fact, is capable of making errors, SMART-TD would like to encourage the new head of the largest railroad in the United States to take the next step and admit that this new 12 Critical Safety Rules policy is an example of where he has made a massive error. SMART-TD is challenging UP, its upper management, and Vena himself, to call this experiment what it is, a mistake, and to do the right thing by their workers and their customers by repealing it.

Until they do, our union is prepared to fight them from the top down. We encourage our brothers and sisters working for the UP under this policy to reject the company’s incentive to sign discipline waivers and not to voluntarily give up their rights to representation by their union.

Just as every winter slowdown turns into a summer busy season, we are confident that this ridiculous set of rules and outlandish punishments will also run its course.

One thing for sure is that a signed waiver does not go away. Please work safe. Please do your job with the dignity and respect for the equipment and work environment that the job demands, and when Vena and his ill-advised policies try to take what you’ve worked for away from you and your family, lean into the experience and institutional knowledge this union affords you.

Together, we will call this situation out for what it is. Stand up to this injustice and we will win this fight as a union family.

If CEO Vena truly wants to promote safety on his railroad, he should feel free to call SMART-TD’s Cleveland headquarters and schedule a conversation. We’ve been focused on the safety of rail operations since our founding. We would be happy to share what we know.

Since 1998, trains coming across the Mexican border to the United States in Laredo, Texas, have been run by non-FRA-certified foreign national crews from Mexico. These foreign crews have been taking trains into Port Laredo, where they receive an initial Class I inspection and brake test on U.S. soil.  

This practice was established back in 1998 when Union Pacific requested a variance from FRA. The variance was reconfirmed in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018 and was reapplied for in 2022.  

Multiple times this variance has come up for renewal, and the question has been asked of FRA whether it would be permissible for crews over whom they have no oversight to take trains 10 miles deep into our country without an inspection and without a thorough brake test. For years, the agency’s leaders answered, “Yes — If the railroad asked for it, it must be OK.”  

In 2023, UP put in its standard request seeking a rubber stamp to continue the practice, using the same tired justifications the carrier has used for a quarter-century. All unions know crews are paid by the mile, and UP had somehow found a way to trade the border security of this country and the safety of our rails so the carrier wouldn’t have to pay U.S.-based crews for those 10 extra miles a day.  

But unlike the four prior requests, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson, National Legislative Director Greg Hynes, Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity and Kamron Saunders, Texas’s state legislative director, officially requested FRA put an end to this practice. Along with our allies in the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department and other rail labor organizations, SMART-TD submitted strong public comments that pointed out many holes in the logic.  

This week, FRA released its ruling on UP’s variance request. The carrier will continue to be allowed to perform Class I brake tests 10 miles into the U.S. in its yard in Port Laredo, Texas.  

HOWEVER, in a clear victory for labor, a new rule was added.  

13. All trains crossing the international bridge at Laredo and destined for UP’s Port Laredo Yard must be operated from the bridge to that Yard by a properly qualified and certified UP locomotive engineer and conductor.” 

Local Chairperson Eddy Castaneda of Local 1670 (Laredo, Texas) is also vice general chairperson of the San Antonio Hub and highly excited about the news out of the FRA this week.  

“It has been a long fight to get this work back, and this is a big win for us. It wouldn’t have been possible without everyone working together,” he said. “All the local chairs in the Laredo Hub, Scott Chelette, our general committee chair, and Kamron Saunders, our Texas state legislative director, as well as the International, have been relentless — working on congressmen and the FRA to get these jobs back in the hands of FRA-certified crews. 

“We are grateful for those of us here in Laredo, but we have a long fight still to go. There are many other border crossings and a lot more crew bases we need to fight for.” 

President Ferguson was in Texas at a Houston rail labor rally shortly after the FRA released its ruling. When he got word of this win for common sense and public safety, he had this to say: 

“The carriers involved gave our work to non-FRA-certified foreign national crews a long time ago to save a buck for their shareholders. Today, our members got back some work that is rightfully ours and this country is safer and better off for it. I’m proud of the work SMART-TD has done to make this happen. This ruling helps shore up a national security concern. This is a good day for our members and this country’s safety.” 

Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity said FRA’s action is a step forward to normalizing cross-border regulation. 

“It is great that we got this work back for our crews and were able to add security to our borders, but the big-picture win is that FRA listened to SMART-TD,” Cassity said. “They listened to the views of Kamron Saunders and didn’t blindly swallow whatever the railroads tried to sell them. This FRA isn’t afraid to deny the railroad what they want if it isn’t the safest policy for our workers and the country itself.”  

For more information, read FRA’s ruling embedded below. 

The oldest railroad in the nation has finally realized that people get sick.

About 6,000 SMART Transportation Division conductors and trainmen and 75 SMART Rail, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department workers have secured paid sick leave from Union Pacific after voting to ratify their respective tentative agreements.

RME members reached their agreement with the railroad in spring 2023.

“For our members, we stuck together with other unions, and we were able to win four unpaid sick days, with the option to convert three other paid leave days,” said SMART General Committee 2 General Chairperson John McCloskey.

The agreement for TD members was reached on July 10 by Alt. Vice President and General Chairperson Scott Chelette (GO-927); Alt. Vice President and General Chairperson Gary Crest (GO-887); General Chairperson Joey Cornelius (GO-569); General Chairperson Roy Davis (GO-577) and General Chairperson Luke Edington (GO-953).

“This is a great day for our members as this agreement is all inclusive to all members and can be used for not only themselves but also in their families’ illnesses as well,” said Chelette, whose GO-927 unanimously ratified the agreement. “The ability to bank unused days for future use in case they are needed, or having a cash out option, is a huge benefit.”

“This agreement is not only great for our members, it’s great for our industry. This is the start of us working on real quality of life issues for our membership,” Crest said. “We look forward to delivering more victories like this in the coming years.”

“This is a great agreement,” added Davis, whose GO-577 also ratified it unanimously.

The agreement, ratified by more than 96% of members in favor, includes:

  • Five (5) paid sick days to all employees actively working in road and yard service, including Hostler/Hostler Helpers and Firemen in Training. Paid sick days can be taken at any time and cannot be denied.
  • In lieu of the restricted medical days provided to employees in unassigned service only in Side Letter #3 of Public Law No. 117-216, all employees, regardless of class of service that is represented by, will have the ability to convert three (3) single vacation days to paid sick days to be taken on demand, any day of the week that cannot be denied.
  • The Additional Day provided in Public Law No. 117-216 can now be taken on demand, any day of the week, without restriction unless it falls on the following holidays: July 4th, Thanksgiving, Day After Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  • Creates a process for banking of up to sixty (60) days of any unused Personal Leave Days, Paid Sick Days, and the Additional Day. This includes the ability to cash out or utilize any or all banked days.

Local 200 chairperson, general chairperson and SLD’s combined efforts get opportunity for cut workers to remain in industry

E. Hunter Harrison has been dead since Dec. 16, 2017. His legacy known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) is still alive and kicking.  

Some of the railroads have said publicly that they are trying to steer away from PSR. But in an unexpected twist, the specter of Harrison is rearing its ugly head in the lives of all our Union Pacific members with the recent ascension of new CEO Jim Vena.   

Vena is a known student of Harrison. When UP employees, some stockholders and SMART-TD general chairpersons expressed alarm at Vena’s hiring, the carrier put out a well-polished piece of propaganda about how Vena 2.0 was a changed man. 

We were all supposed to be put at ease, that he had learned the hard way that PSR was an unnecessarily disruptive force to the industry, the supply chain and in the personal lives of railroad employees.  

For the record, SMART-TD never bought this idea. The five GCs of our UP General Committees in no uncertain terms informed the carrier that they strongly disagree with Vena’s hiring. In the letter sent to UP’s vice president of labor relations, our GCs said “As COO, Jim Vena enacted policies, practices, and procedures that deliberately destroyed our members’ quality of life for the sake of profit. 

“He orchestrated huge furloughs and cuts to every department in transportation, which resulted in the crew shortages we have yet to recover from,” the GCs wrote. 

This second point came into play almost immediately upon Vena taking over Aug. 14. Less than a week into his reign, Vena proved our GCs to be absolutely correct by announcing UP was going to cut 94 positions across four crafts and 13 terminals.  

These men and women whose jobs were erased through no fault of their own were represented by the IBEW, IAM, NCFO and SMART Mechanical Division. Many of these fellow railroaders worked in remote locations where the UP terminal was the largest employer. As a result, many of them were going to have to uproot their families and pursue new career opportunities. 

SMART-TD Local Chairperson Amanda Snide (Local 200, North Platte, Neb.) didn’t like what she was hearing. She was frustrated and confused why these railroaders, though from different crafts and unions, were being thrown to the wolves while her terminal was desperately looking to find candidates to fill their posted openings for conductor positions.  

Sister Snide took matters into her own hands at that point. She successfully brokered the idea with the local management at the North Platte terminal to offer 11 employees slated to be let go in the mechanical crafts positions as conductors.  

As we approach the Labor Day holiday, there can be no better example of the value of labor movement than what these three accomplished for these fellow railroaders and their families. We thank you for defending our rail labor brothers and sisters against the corporate greed that threatened everything they had worked to build.  

Snide’s results giving the workers affected by Vena’s malicious cuts at her home terminal the chance to preserve their income, health benefits and retirement, impressed Nebraska’s SLD Foust. He took what Snide had started and turned his attention to the 83 other casualties of Vena’s short-sighted greed. Foust contacted General Chairperson Luke Edington from GO-953. Brother Edington, who was already on the record with UP about not being on board with UP’s “new vision,” took it from there. 

Edington took Snide’s plan and Foust’s vision of expanding it straight to UP’s Human Resources Department. SMART-TD is very proud to announce that Brother Edington succeeded in reaching an agreement with UP that at all terminals where they are simultaneously attempting to hire conductors and laying off other craft employees will give the same opportunity to transfer to conductor positions that Snide had enacted in North Platte.  

As of Aug. 30, 50% of the affected employees in eligible terminals had applied for transfers to conductor positions — quite a few salvaged railroad careers.  

SMART-TD is very proud of the initiative taken by Sister Snide, SLD Foust and GO-953 GC Luke Edington to make this happen.  

As we approach the Labor Day holiday, there can be no better example of the value of labor movement than what these three accomplished for these fellow railroaders and their families. We thank you for defending our rail labor brothers and sisters against the corporate greed that threatened everything they had worked to build.  

There has always been and will always be Hunter Harrison and Jim Vena types in the rail industry. What is important is that we commit ourselves as a union and as individuals to make sure we can match them with the wits, fight, solidarity and humanity exhibited by members like Amanda Snide and that the union spirit embodies. 

Five General Committees ratify tentative agreement securing up to eight sick days

The oldest railroad in the nation has finally realized that people get sick.

About 6,000 SMART Transportation Division conductors and trainmen have secured paid sick leave from Union Pacific after voting to ratify a tentative agreement.

The agreement was reached July 10 by Alt. Vice President and General Chairperson Scott Chelette (GO-927); Alt. Vice President and General Chairperson Gary Crest (GO-887); General Chairperson Joey Cornelius (GO-569); General Chairperson Roy Davis (GO-577) and General Chairperson Luke Edington (GO-953).

“This is a great day for our members as this agreement is all inclusive to all members and can be used for not only themselves but also in their families’ illnesses as well,” said Chelette, whose GO-927 unanimously ratified the agreement. “The ability to bank unused days for future use in case they are needed or having a cash out option is a huge benefit.”

“This agreement is not only great for our members it’s great for our industry. This is the start of us working on real quality of life issues for our membership,” Crest said. “We look forward to delivering more victories like this in the coming years.” 

“This is a great agreement,” said GC Davis, whose GO-577 also ratified it unanimously.

The agreement, ratified by more than 96% of members in favor, includes:

  • Five (5) paid sick days to all employees actively working in road and yard service, including Hostler/Hostler Helpers and Firemen in Training. Paid sick days can be taken at any time and cannot be denied.
  • In lieu of the restricted medical days provided to employees in unassigned service only in Side Letter #3 of Public Law No. 117-216, all employees, regardless of class of service that is represented by SMART TD, will have the ability to convert three (3) single vacation days to paid sick days to be taken on demand, any day of the week that cannot be denied.
  • The Additional Day provided in Public Law No. 117-216 can now be taken on demand, any day of the week, without restriction unless it falls on the following holidays: July 4th, Thanksgiving, Day After Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  • Creates a process for banking of up to sixty (60) days of any unused Personal Leave Days, Paid Sick Days, and the Additional Day. This includes the ability to cash out or utilize any or all banked days.

As a result of last year’s national rail negotiations, some TD freight rail members have gained — for the first time — paid sick leave benefits for train and engine workers for U.S.-based carriers on the East Coast.

In late April, GO-049 Mid-Atlantic District members ratified the first agreement for freight rail operating employees to receive paid sick days.

The agreement with CSX set a historic precedent, providing for five paid sick days, adding an option to convert personal days to sick days and cashing out sick time at the end of the year.

The lack of paid sick time within the railroad industry was highlighted in the media in 2022, when workers rejected a tentative national agreement that covered most railroad carriers and labor organizations, almost leading to a shutdown of the nation’s vital supply chain.

The operating crafts (which include engineers, conductors and trainmen) have what is perceived as the most demanding of working conditions of the railroad crafts due to the travel requirements, extreme weather conditions and the on-call nature of their positions. This agreement establishes a benefit in the railroad industry that many American workers already enjoy.

In addition to paid sick time, the agreement, which covers approximately 2,400 conductors and trainmen on CSX Northern line, also adopts the current attendance policy put in place by CSX into the collective bargaining agreement. Railroads in the past have been reluctant to negotiate attendance; this is another first for the operating workforce, as it subjects the former policy (now agreement) to negotiations if any changes are desired by either the carrier or the employees in the future.

“It’s refreshing and impressive to see the overwhelming support of the membership on this tentative agreement. It is also encouraging that SMART-TD and CSX leadership were able to sit down at the table and reach a consensus on items as important as these. I am hopeful this momentum will carry forward in future negotiations and help us collectively improve the working conditions and overall morale at CSX,” General Chairperson Richard Lee said.

Two other CSX committees, GOs 513 and 851, also reached similar tentative agreements in late May.

All Norfolk Southern operating general committees have ratified an agreement and completed negotiations with the carrier gaining five paid sick days, additional financial compensation and addressing scheduling and quality-of-life concerns. Yardmasters also reached an agreement that provides paid sick time.

UP GO reaches crew-consist agreement

Out west, GO-953 ratified a crew-consist agreement, preserving the in-cab role of the conductor until national negotiations reopen. The ratified agreement provides for a substantial signing bonus, work protections and no rules changes regarding road/yard switching.

General Chairperson Luke Edington of Local 286 (North Platte, Neb.) negotiated the successful agreement with assistance from Vice General Chairperson Zach Nagy and Vice President Brent Leonard.

GO-953 has members in 48 TD locals and represents workers in Union Pacific’s Eastern, Pacific Northwest and Idaho territories (former Chicago-Northwestern Railway Co.), Kyle, Nebraska Central and Portland Terminal railroads and the Wichita Terminal Association.

Property-specific negotiations continue with BNSF and remaining segments of CSX and UP, while talks with Norfolk Southern have concluded. The SMART website will continue to be updated with the latest information about continued negotiations and the substantial gains these agreements bring to our members’ quality of life.

CSX facts

  • Five paid sick days with option to convert two personal days
  • Unused sick days converted to cash
  • Incorporates more lenient carrier attendance policy
  • Covers ~2,400 members

UP facts

  • A $27,500 signing bonus upon the contract’s ratification
  • Continues to require the conductor’s position as being based in the cab of the locomotive
  • 30 years of protections for brakemen/switchmen, with assignments abolished

NS facts

  • T&E workers get five paid sick days with the option to convert up to two personal leave days to on-demand sick days
  • Unused personal leave days can now be carried over and accumulated indefinitely, with no limitations
  • Yardmasters get four paid sick days with the option to convert up to three personal leave days

A confusing scenario has played out in the Midwest this week involving the Union Pacific Railroad and its intention to create a new position in Kansas and Nebraska.

The truth of the matter is that UP is creating new positions; however, the positions being created are in addition to their current road and yard crews, not as a replacement for road conductors.

These utility positions will have the ability to assist road crews in addition to the standard utility role of working within yards. The utility jobs pay well and are additional scheduled positions that are not replacing the role of the traditional conductor on road trains.

The Associated Press (AP) ran a headline this week stating these utility jobs were the enactment of the UP’s now-infamous nomadic “Expediter” position which was the plan they made public last December before FRA to take conductors off road trains. Ironically, the recent article the AP ran was based on comments made by a member of UP management at a hearing in Topeka, Kansas that was making the state’s 2PC regulation the law throughout Kansas.

With this as the backdrop, it is difficult to understand how some have interpreted the statement of the executive as an announcement that UP was ready to come out of the world of poorly made YouTube videos and into the reality of American railroading and that the union had suddenly changed its position on a minimum crew size, but that is apparently what happened in some’s minds.

UP officer Jason Pinder’s imprecise statements during Monday’s public hearing on the Kansas Administrative Regulation that finalized our union’s successful efforts to bring 2PC to Kansas caused all this. Coverage of Pinder’s take on the new utility positions reasonably made railroaders in the region ask themselves the question, “Who do I trust the least, rail executives, or the media?” The answer is that you should check the sources for both!

Luckily for all involved and for accuracy’s sake, SMART-TD was well-represented at this hearing and is able to give first-hand details of what went on from not only Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo, but also Luke Edington, general chairperson of GO-953, who negotiated the UP crew-consist agreement for SMART-TD. These two leaders are intimately aware of what UP can and cannot do with these new utility workers. They are among the men who put in the time and effort to guarantee UP cannot, under any circumstances, remove conductors from the cab of the locomotive.

Brother Edington took the quotes from Pinder personally and did not appreciate the confusion the words of the ill-informed “railroader” caused for his members. Responding to what the AP published, Edington fired off a letter to UP’s CEO Lance Fritz. In his correspondence, Brother Edington pointed out that this new utility position “may only assist Conductors and Foreman with duties.” He added that his office has “not agreed to a ‘pilot program’ for redeploying conductors as Mr. Pinder alleges.”

Edington wants it to be clear to all involved, including Lance Fritz, that SMART-TD agreed to expand the utility assignment so it could assist road conductors as well as conductors and foremen on local and yard assignments. We stand firm and continue to maintain that two on the crew is the safest course of operations. We did not and will not agree to give away our members’ jobs!

See below the letter GC Edington sent to Fritz.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) is proud to announce a Tentative Agreement (TA) has been reached with the Union Pacific Railroad that, among other things, provides paid sick leave to about 6,000 of UP’s conductors and trainmen. SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson is calling this TA a win for the quality of life for thousands of railroaders on the frontline of America’s economy today and for generations to come.

The Union Pacific general chairpersons met in the SMART-TD board room during their negotiation sessions. On the left side of table are General Chairperson Scott Chelette (GO-927), General Chairperson Joey Cornelius (GO-569) and General Chairperson Gary Crest (GO-887). On the right side are General Chairperson Roy Davis (GO-577), and General Chairperson Luke Edington (GO-953). 

“Our members made it very clear in 2022 that quality-of-life issues and the ability to provide stability for their families in times of medical crisis was of the utmost importance. On-demand sick days that do not amount to discipline from their employer are a historic step in the right direction for these men and women, and I am very proud of the effort that our General Chairmen on the UP properties put in to make this happen,” Ferguson said.

“In this industry, everything is earned, and nothing is given. These five GCs worked tirelessly to get this TA done for our SMART-TD rail members. This organization listens to our members and their voices guide our mission 100% of the time. Today is a great example of us being able to impose our conductors and trainmen’s will on the carriers to bring them a better quality of life and peace of mind for their families.”

“Union Pacific has been running freight trains in this country since Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862. Today for the first time they have agreed to provide their frontline employees with the dignity of paid sick leave. It’s a proud day for our men and women.”

SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson

UP, which is the largest freight railroad in the U.S., has 45,400 employees. The TA announced will affect upwards of 5,900 conductors and trainmen.

For his part in the TA negotiation, General Chairman Roy Davis of GO-557 said: “It took a lot of hard work to get here, but in the end, it all came together. All five of the UP General Chairs stuck together in these negotiations and it paid off with this great TA.” Brother Davis also added that “It only took UP about 160 years to figure out that people get sick and that it doesn’t make sense to fire them for it!”

Brother Scott Chelette, GC of GA-927, wanted it to be highlighted that: “The three medical occurrences we negotiated for in December’s contract didn’t help our members in assigned service. With this TA, we were able to convert them into on-demand sick days available to assigned and unassigned boards alike. Now our yardmen and all our road crews can benefit from these days without UP being able to deny the requests.” Chelette also wanted it known that this win wasn’t just accomplished by himself and the other four GCs.

“This truly was a team effort. Not only were we successful in having all 5 GCs stick together in the negotiations, but our legislative team was a big part of this,” he said. “The State Legislative Directors across UP’s territory as well as Greg Hynes and Jared Cassity in the National Legislative office worked behind the scenes to get Congress and state officials to apply pressure on UP to bargain with us in good faith. When you have the legislative team working hard and the membership amplifying their message every step of the way about our quality-of-life concerns, this TA is the kind of product we can achieve as a strong labor organization.”

Brother Luke Edington GC of GO-953, said: “All told, this TA provides our members with an unprecedented 8 days of on-demand paid leave for illness and well-being. This is the kind of achievement that makes the countless hours of work we put into this union movement worthwhile. This improvement to SMART-TD frontline workers’ lives is what makes it worthwhile answering the alarm clock every day of our careers.”

General Chairman Joe Cornelius of GCA 569 said: “We put a lot of time and thought in to make sure that everyone got cut in on this deal. The TA really is a win/win for our members. If they get sick, they can take a day off and not worry about losing that day’s pay, and for the first time, they won’t have to worry about being assigned any points toward discipline. One of the perks to this agreement that we insisted on is that it isn’t a ‘use-it or lose-it’ scenario. All unused sick days can be banked up to 60 days that keep rolling. If a member accumulates more than 60 unused days, UP will cut them a check to cash out the excess days. It’s a great parachute to have a 60-day buffer when things go wrong medically.”

Brother Gary Crest, GC of GO-887, said: “This TA has been a long time coming. It took 160 years to get here, but we aren’t done yet. There’s still a lot of work left to do to bring this railroad into the 21st century, and we are determined to do it.”

“I want to thank SMART-TD leadership for their support as we work together to create an environment where employees feel valued, supported and empowered to deliver exceptional service to our customers,” said Lance Fritz, Union Pacific chairman, president and CEO. “We are committed to continued collaboration with our labor partners and employees to further identify opportunities that support our best-in-class workforce.”

Please see the attached document to see the highlights of the tentative agreement. Local chairpersons will be receiving the verbiage soon and they will be providing it to the members for review as they consider ratification of the agreement.