SKAGWAY, Alaska (July 31, 2023) — Members of the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) have voted in favor of ratifying a tentative agreement the union recently reached with the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR).

The more than two-dozen unionized workers for WP&YR, the largest employer in Skagway and a tourist railroad serving thousands of visitors who come to the southeast Alaska town of 1,200, had been working since late 2017 without a new contract.

“This has been a hard-fought and long — nearly six-year — journey for our membership and our negotiating team,” said lead negotiator Jason Guiler, SMART-TD general chairperson. “Our members have spoken and are in favor of this agreement. After working through a pandemic and then dealing with the surge in both inflation and ridership as tourists have come back, they feel that the carrier has extended an acceptable offer.

“This is a prime example of how collective bargaining works. We look forward to serving riders aboard the WP&YR now that negotiations have been resolved!”

The new contract, effective Jan. 1, 2018, with a wage package that began upon ratification on July 26, 2023, includes a wage increase through the length of the nine-year agreement. It also prevented the carrier from eliminating the brakeman position.

“General Chairperson Guiler and the membership of our Local 1626 in Alaska who work for WP&YR should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished with this success,” said Vice President Brent Leonard, who assisted in the negotiating process throughout. “It proves what can be done when workers stand together for themselves. I congratulate them on an outstanding job!”

SKAGWAY, Alaska (July 25, 2023) — White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad (WP&YR) and the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) are pleased to announce that a tentative agreement has been reached between the railroad and the union for WP&YR’s train and engine workers.

The agreement, which will run through 2027, is under consideration by the more than two-dozen unionized operating employees and is pending ratification. Details of the agreement will be released publicly following the announcement of the ratification vote results.

“Growing up in train and engine service, I have a deep respect for the craft and have worked hard over my tenure to help further that tradition on the railroad. With this agreement, we can now move forward together continuing the WP&YR’s 125-year legacy,” WP&YR Superintendent of Rail Operations Mark Taylor said.

“The members I represent will carefully consider the provisions of this agreement,” said General Chairperson Jason Guiler (GCA-WPY), who led the labor union’s local negotiating team and represents the unionized operating employees working for the WP&YR. “This long process has allowed us to express our concerns and urge the carrier to offer a contract that is fair and addresses workers’ needs.”

“I’m very proud of the hard work that General Chairman Guiler and the Local 1626 negotiating team did on this round of negotiations,” said SMART-TD Vice President Brent Leonard, who assisted in facilitating the negotiations. ”This tentative agreement recognizes the dedicated hard work that SMART-TD members provide to the WP&YR and provides exceptional raises in pay, maintains a high level of health & welfare benefits and does so without a single concession in work rules. SMART-TD White Pass members, once again have something to be proud about in their jobs.”

“It has certainly been a challenging process, but we are happy that both parties have been able to come together and get this done in the best interest of our employees. It is a good agreement for both sides and we believe shows the respect, value, and appreciation we hold for the work our people do,” said WP&YR Executive Director Tyler Rose.

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The White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) is a World Class railroad annually carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers through Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory. WP&YR is a Class 2 railroad federally regulated in the United States and Canada and is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members who work in a variety of different crafts in the transportation industry. These crafts include employees on every Class I railroad, Amtrak, many shortline railroads, bus and mass transit employees and airport personnel.

SKAGWAY, Alaska (July 6, 2023) — SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) Local 1626, which represents operating personnel for the White Pass & Yukon Route (WPYR), authorized a strike late last week. The labor union and railroad have negotiated for nearly six years and have been unable to resolve disputes on wages, healthcare, workforce reduction and safety.

A strike will affect tens of thousands of vacationers visiting Alaska during the peak summer travel period.

SMART-TD is attempting to secure wages commensurate with cost-of-living increases seen over the past six years. Since the expiration of the previous agreement in 2017, workers’ wages have not changed, making it increasingly difficult for employees to cover basic living expenses. The railroad also wants to increase healthcare costs, further reducing employees’ take-home wages.

The carrier also seeks to reduce the workforce by a third by removing the brakeman from every train, a safety-critical position for trains that routinely carry 600 passengers. While engineers operate the controls of the locomotive, brakemen and conductors work from the train cars, where they can ensure the safe passage of those aboard. They also protect the public as the train travels through the busiest parts of town. Removing the brakeman and depending entirely on conductors to perform twice the work would endanger passengers and the public. Safety is the highest concern for SMART-TD, and we refuse to endorse or agree to carrier’s proposal that puts passengers, employees, and the public at risk.

The parties engaged in a marathon round of a mediation late into each night through the holiday weekend. The three-day session failed to break the logjam and ended with SMART-TD rejecting the railroad’s offer. The future of negotiations is in limbo as the parties did not agree to a future meeting date at the conclusion of the meetings this past weekend.

SMART-TD Vice President Brent Leonard, who joined the negotiations in the spring of 2023 and participated in the negotiations through the holiday weekend, stated: “I’m very proud of the resolve and commitment of the Local 1626 negotiating team. Six years is far too long for these families to go without normal raises, particularly when the costs of living have risen so sharply. Many of these men and women leave their homes and families for several months of the year in order to work for this railroad. They are dedicated employees who deserve a fair recognition of their work from their employer. SMART-TD is committed to whatever is necessary to achieve a fair resolution for these men & women and their families.”

Contract negotiations are in mediation in accordance with the Railway Labor Act. If SMART-TD and WPYR cannot resolve the dispute, they can be released from mediation and offered arbitration. If both parties do not agree to arbitration, a 30-day cooling-off period will occur after which a strike could occur. If a strike was to occur, complete carrier shutdown would happen. No trains would operate, and cruise ship passengers would be left without transport.

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.”

While America and the world struggle to combat the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, new heroes have emerged. While much of America has long celebrated its athletes and celebrities as its heroes, this pandemic has shown us who the real heroes are in our society.
At the onset of World War II, Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said in a letter to a close friend:

This is a long tough road we have to travel. The men that can do things are going to be sought out just as surely as the sun rises in the morning.

Vice President Brent Leonard

America’s freight railroad workers are the men and women that “can do things.” Throughout this unfathomable crisis, they have continued to transport the critical commodities and supplies that keep this country operating. These dedicated employees work incredibly long hours, with unpredictable schedules, little rest between shifts, and relatively no time off. The nation’s freight railroads are deemed so important to the economy and our country during this pandemic that the federal government has exercised its emergency order authority, and waived crucial safety regulations designed to protect these employees and the general public, all for the sake of keeping the trains running at maximum efficiency.
It would reason that America’s railroads and our elected representatives would want to take care of these heroes if they were affected by the COVID-19 virus by ensuring these men and women would be treated under medical insurance at no cost to the employee. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In a stunningly greedy and despicable move, the nation’s railroads have denied their employees and their unions’ requests for relief from the costs of COVID-19 treatment.
In a letter dated April 15th, Chairman Brendan M. Branon of the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), an association of more than 30 U.S. freight and passenger railroads employing more than 145,000 workers, advised rail labor organizations that they would NOT waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment, wanting these families to pay their full portion of treatment costs if they are affected by COVID-19. This move is a slap in the face to the heroes who are working tirelessly to keep the railroads and the nation operating.
Let us put this in perspective. The nation’s railroads are not the struggling small businesses fighting to stay afloat. They are consistently reporting billions of dollars in annual profit. In addition to those billions in profits, the nation’s railroads take government (taxpayer) handouts to the tune of billions of dollars per year. These behemoths are provided billions in tax subsidies in everything from diesel fuel taxes, property taxes, to payroll taxes and infrastructure subsidies. Yes, we the taxpayers are helping fund the billions of dollars of profit that these railroads make. Yet the railroads choose to not fully cover their employees’ costs if they are infected with COVID-19. Do not forget, these are the employees who make it possible for gas stations to have gas to sell, that toilet paper can be produced, that grain and feed is supplied to livestock, that produce can be grown, that there are chemicals to purify our drinking water, and that medical supplies can reach our hospitals and healthcare professionals at a time when they need them most.
In the railroads’ refusal to fully cover these costs, they claim their “extensive measures to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak” are designed to limit employee exposure. While this pandemic is challenging for even the best-managed and -run businesses, the railroads are failing miserably in this regard. Reminiscent of the auto industry’s infamous practice of calculating the cost of lawsuits rather than recalling and fixing deadly cars, the railroads are doing precisely the same thing in regard to COVID-19.
In many instances, railroads have taken only the most basic steps to protect employees. Even with that minimal effort, unions have collected thousands of reports from rail employees indicating that no action has been taken whatsoever. The railroads are gambling that the cost of a few employees’ lives are less consequential to the bottom line than providing basic protective measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This leads us to the potential cost of fully covering these frontline essential workers if they contract COVID-19. While it is difficult to provide an exact estimate at this time, it is a safe bet that the total additional cost is a pittance when compared to the uninterrupted billions in employee-generated revenue and taxpayer handouts the railroads continue to receive.
Ultimately, it is greed and disdain for frontline, essential workers that drives the railroad’s refusal to fully cover their employees’ out-of-pocket costs. Is this the America we have become? Do we no longer celebrate and protect our most-critical heroes who get things done?
Brent C. Leonard is a vice president of SMART Transportation Division, a labor union comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.