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Rail agreement provides for medical leave — with a catch

The 2022 tentative national rail agreement includes some guaranteed time off for rail workers as well as the largest wage increase in nearly 50 years, according to a copy of the agreement shared with FreightWaves.

SMART Transportation Division’s negotiating committee approved this tentative agreement last week unanimously, averting what could have been the first major railroad strike since 1992. 

The most contentious point of rail workers’ negotiations with their employers was the question of time off. North American Class I railroads have revamped their operations in recent years, leaving them with better profit margins but fewer employees. As a result, rail conductors and engineers are more likely to be on call and unable to take time off for medical reasons.

The tentative agreement now guarantees one additional paid day off for workers. Unionized rail employees will be permitted three annual periods off for medical care visits, and cannot be penalized for that time off by their employers. Hospital admissions or surgeries cannot be penalized. 

However, there’s a catch. 

The medical care visits must take place on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday and be scheduled at least 30 days in advance.

The time off allows for days off before or after the exam, according to the tentative agreement. It’s not clear if employees will be penalized for taking medical leave should the days off around the exam not take place on those three days of the week, or if the exam must occur with less than 30 days of notice.

The SMART Transportation synopsis of the tentative agreement stated, “Note that this is the first time the Carriers have ever agreed to bargain over attendance policies on a national scale, and it opens the door for future negotiation over these issues!”

SMART Transportation, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, did not immediately provide a comment to FreightWaves’ press inquiry. Union leaders had pushed for 15 days of paid time off, the Washington Post previously reported.

Rail agreement provides wage increases as well as cost-sharing contributions

Those covered by this agreement will see general wage increases of 24% compounded through 2024 and $5,000 in lump-sum bonuses. More details are available here: 

Employees covered by the SMART Transportation agreement will see no increases to out-of-pocket costs, prescription drugs, or co-pays. Monthly contributions have been frozen at 15%, and cost-sharing contributions are increasing from 12.6% to 15%. The SMART Transportation union included the following summary:

What happens next

The general chairpersons of SMART Transportation are reviewing the tentative agreement and will be able to submit questions to the union’s general chairperson until Oct. 7, according to a Thursday email to the chairpersons that was viewed by FreightWaves. 

Following that, the SMART Transportation negotiating committee will consolidate questions to the rail carriers’ representatives. The questions and answers will be available to rail workers by the time they vote on the agreement. That 21-day voting period is expected in mid- to late October, and the results are expected by late November, according to a tweet from SMART Union.

As FreightWaves previously reported, it’s not definite that workers will vote for this contract — meaning a rail strike could still occur. Charles Stallworth, a train conductor, said last week that he did not fully support the tentative agreement. “At this point, I’m kind of backed into a wall where I have to go with it, even though I don’t really agree with it,” Stallworth said.  

Are you a rail worker? Email [email protected].