OMAHA, Neb. – Norfolk Southern on Wednesday became the third major freight railroad to offer some of its employees paid sick time, announcing a deal with one of its unions in response to workers' quality-of life complaints that arose during contract negotiations.
The agreement to provide about 3,000 track maintenance workers in the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union with sick time offered some positive news for the railroad as it works to clean up the mess after its fiery derailment in eastern Ohio earlier this month.
BMWED union spokesman Clark Ballew said the sick time will be especially welcome to workers rebuilding the track after the Feb. 3 derailment outside East Palestine, Ohio.
“It is imperative that they have resources available that keep them safe and healthy at a site that many would be apprehensive to work,” Ballew said. “Paid sick time is one of those resources, but there are several others, and we expect N.S. to start doing right by their employees and the public and afford all resources necessary to not exacerbate an already bad situation.”
The agreement follows along the same lines as the ones CSX and Union Pacific announced earlier this month. The workers will get four paid sick days a year and have the option to convert three of their personal leave days into sick days.
The railroads have been reaching these deals without demanding concessions from the unions. But none of the sick time agreements so far cover train crews that have schedules keeping them on call 24-7. But the railroads have said they are negotiating with all of their unions about this.
Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw said the Atlanta-based railroad is committed to improving workers’ “quality of life in partnership with our union leaders.”
Concerns about the lack of paid sick time and demanding schedules pushed the industry to the brink of a strike last fall before Congress stepped in to block a walkout and force workers to accept a five-year contract that included 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses. But the contract didn't address many of their concerns about working conditions.
The federal Surface Transportation Board praised the railroads that have announced sick time agreements because it said “these types of collaborative efforts to tackle ‘quality of life’ issues should result in the further strengthening of our national rail network by promoting both retention of existing workers and providing incentives for potential new hires.”