Railroad workers’ unions continued to make strides this week in pushing for more flexibility in employees’ days off, with Union Pacific Railroad saying Wednesday that it had made a tentative agreement with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) to provide more predictable schedules for workers.
The proposed agreement would provide locomotive engineers with an 11 days on, 4 days off schedule. That approach will also enable the railroad to better manage staffing levels, which supports more consistent and reliable service, Union Pacific said.
The deal would impact some 5,600 Union Pacific locomotive engineers represented by BLET. And both parties said that negotiations are continuing that could affect additional employees, covering ways to improve quality of life such as sick time.
Union Pacific’s agreement follows news on Monday that fellow rail operator CSX Corp. had reached a tentative agreement with the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division CSRA (SMART-TD CSRA) to provide paid sick leave benefits to trainmen, conductors, and yardmen. And likewise on May 19, Norfolk Southern Corp. agreed to provide up to seven paid sick days per year to its union employees represented by BLET.
The contentious issue of days off and paid sick leave was the sticking point that nearly triggered a nationwide rail strike in December 2022, until Congress and the Biden Administration imposed an earlier agreement. The recent flurry of agreements in that area signal that unions and railroads have continued to negotiate agreements since backing away from that precipice.
"Union Pacific values its craft professionals and their candid feedback, which have led to these historic changes, improving the quality of life for the locomotive engineers who move the goods Americans rely on every day," UP Chairman, President and CEO Lance Fritz said in a release. "Last fall, we promised to address their concerns and find solutions, and we want to thank union leadership for their collaboration on this industry-leading agreement."
According to union leaders, the changes will make a substantial difference in working conditions for their members. "The 11-4 work/rest schedule will be life altering for employees who are used to working on-call 24/7, 365 days a year," BLET National President Eddie Hall said in a release. "We applaud our BLET General Chairmen and Union Pacific's management for this important step that we believe will improve our members' quality of life. This significant change in scheduling not only will make life better for locomotive engineers and their families, it also should help Union Pacific retain and recruit employees."