It was good news a couple weeks ago, when the rail unions and the freight railroads reached a tentative agreement, averting a potential strike. Now that the dust has somewhat settled and the process of ratifying those agreements has begun, some U.S. shippers are still a little hesitant on if the ratification of these agreements will indeed improve service.
One of the biggest issues is whether or not the railroads will be able to find all necessary workers needed to ensure that network capacity and service needs are met, as well as retaining the existing unionized workforce.
The Class I railroads have incorporated recent hiring initiatives, that they started back at the start of this year as an effort to improve rail service.
Justin Louchheim, Senior Director of Government Affairs for The Fertilizer Institute, notes that rail service would be much better if they had more staff. “They need more staff to be able to do their jobs. And if they have more staff to do their jobs, the staff they have will have a better work-life balance,” continuing to say that with more workers, there would be more flexibility when workers happen to get sick or need to step away for a week or so.
Right now, it’s relatively difficult to recruit new and qualified rail workers, especially with work-life balance being a huge talking point in the labor negotiations. While the tentative agreement has begun to address those concerns, some in the rail industry wonder if more could and should be done.
Additionally, union leaders who helped to reach the tentative agreement are working on educating their members on what the agreements mean for their benefits and paychecks. Though, there are some members, who are not as thrilled about the agreements and wish that they would better address the sick leave and attendance policies of the Class I railroads, Freightwaves says.
Legislation Introduced Aimed to Improving Railroad Service
This past Tuesday, Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin has introduced a bill called the Reliable Rail Service Act, that would seek to clarify what the railroads’ obligations are in providing good service.
Specifically, as Freightwaves reports, the bill would better define the common carrier obligation, which are the terms a railroad must abide by when working with a bulk commodities rail shipper to haul goods.
Additionally, the bill would seek to establish specific criteria for the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to consider when determining whether a rail carrier has violated its obligation, Senator Baldwin’s office said.
Chris Jah, American Chemistry Council President and CEO reacted to Baldwin’s news release, “Senator Baldwin has put together a sensible solution aimed at addressing ongoing freight rail service failures. This is a problem everyone should be interested in solving.”
Furthermore, the bill has received support from unions and many shipper groups in the agricultural and chemical interests’ sectors.
As always, we will continue to provide updates on the latest in the industry throughout the year and beyond. Should you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team today!