Norfolk Southern becomes first US rail company to provide paid sick leave

Image: Shutterstock. Ian Dewar Photography

Norfolk Southern (NS), one of the main rail freight companies in the United States, reached another agreement for paid sick leave with a trade union. This makes NS the first Class I Railroad to strike a deal with “100 per cent of its craft workforce”.

The latest agreement was inked yardmasters that are members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD). Yardmasters coordinate all activities in combining rolling stock into trains, breaking down trains into individual railroad cars, and switching trains from track to track in the rail yard.

This latest agreement between NS and SMART-TD is the same as the ones signed with the other unions. Workers will have four days of paid sick leave and will have the possibility to convert three personal days into sick leave, for a total of seven days. The other Class I Railroads, CSX, Union Pacific, BNSF, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific Kansas City are still in negotiations with some unions.

Rail workers VS US Government: a quick recap

Negotiations for a new collective agreement between the rail industry and the workers’ unions 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.

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Author: Marco Raimondi

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

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