US weekly update

US rail unions hard at work to secure workers’ rights

Image: Flickr. Tyler Silvest

Things for railway workers in the United States seem to be gradually improving, with trade unions working hard to convince companies to provide their employees with paid sick leave. Two unions, the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers (NCFO) and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC) reached an agreement with Union Pacific (UP), one of the US largest railway companies.

According to Bloomberg, this deal will make sure that over 2,000 UP employees can take days off when sick and still be paid in full. However, this amounts to only 8 per cent of UP’s craft professionals, meaning that the great majority of them are still waiting for a deal between the company and the unions they are affiliated with.

Same company, different agreements

Despite both being valid from 1 April 2023, the two agreements have slightly different connotations. The one signed with BRC is similar to the ones signed by various unions with railway company CSX. This agreement provides workers with four days of paid sick leave plus the opportunity to convert three vacation days into paid sick leave.

On the other hand, the deal with NCFO is a tad more complicated. For 2023, UP’s employees affiliated with NCFO will have 24 hours of paid sick time off. The agreement, however, entails an increase to 32 hours in 2024. “Member shall be permitted to use paid sick time in a minimum of half-day or one-day increments”, the union explained.

UP following CSX’s footsteps

NCFO and BRC seem to be the most active unions in snatching agreements with railway companies for their members. Both unions have recently signed deals with CSX to cover employees associated with them. CSX has in fact signed agreements to grant paid sick leave with six sections of four different trade unions.

UP’s agreements are similar to the ones reached by CSX over the past couple of weeks. The main difference between UP’s deal and the one offered by CSX is that the latter is retroactive to 1 January. UP will in fact start granting paid sick leave as of 1 April. The company has also claimed that negotiations with other unions are currently ongoing.

Rail workers VS US Government: quick recap

Negotiations for a new collective agreement between the rail industry and the workers’ unions have started in 2019. Since September, however, the situation has precipitated and led to the US government blocking a nationwide strike. On 15 September, in fact, US President Joe Biden proposed a new agreement that included a 24 per cent wage increase over the next five years. On the other hand, the workers were asking for 15 days of paid sick leave per year.

Four unions out of twelve rejected Biden’s proposal and were threatening to go on indefinite strikes on 5 and 9 December. Negotiations kept on going poorly and a strike seemed behind the corner until US institutions intervened for the first time since 1991. The House of Representatives approved a bill to block the strike on 1 December. The very next day, the bill was signed off by the Senate and turned into law by President Biden.

Senator Bernie Sanders tried to intercede, submitting an amendment that included seven days of paid sick leave. The amendment was approved by the House but did not reach the majority needed in the Senate. In addition, in December, shareholders in two US railway companies demanded to implement paid sick leave as a standard perennial benefit. During a press conference last week, Senator Sanders said he had sent a letter to the major US rail companies urging them to implement paid sick leave. If the companies claim they cannot afford such a policy, Sanders is ready to summon them and testify in front of the US Senate.

Author: Marco Raimondi

Marco Raimondi is an editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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