Norfolk Southern Used Sick Leave as Bargaining Chip to Erode Safety, Union Says

The corporate wished to withhold sick go away until the union agreed to help an industry-favored inspection system.

When Norfolk Southern, the railroad firm behind the crash in East Palestine, Ohio, lastly supplied to present its staff paid sick go away, its proposal got here with a significant caveat: the corporate have to be allowed to marketing campaign to erode security rules with out union opposition.

In a letter despatched on Wednesday to government officials, together with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, an official for a significant rail union — representing roughly 3,000 Norfolk Southern staff — stated that the corporate had lately stated it could solely agree to present staff paid sick go away if the union withdrew a letter of opposition to its new experimental inspection system that will make prepare operation extra harmful for staff and communities like East Palestine.

Norfolk Southern additional stated that the union should challenge a letter to federal regulators in help of the corporate’s inspection system as a way to acquire the profit for staff. The proposal got here as negotiations between the corporate and the union on the sick go away challenge had stalled, and felt like an “underhanded” try by the corporate to but once more prioritize income over employee security, the letter stated.

Norfolk Southern and different rail firms have been pushing regulators on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to reinstitute a program for automated observe inspections. Although rail unions have stated that they’re not explicitly towards automated inspections, they consider that these inspections must be paired with human inspections as a way to catch defects that machines couldn’t discover, which they are saying aren’t included in this system.

“[Norfolk Southern]’s proposal was finally for the Union to be complicit in [Norfolk Southern]’s effort to cut back legally required minimal observe security requirements by way of supporting their experimental observe inspection program with out a wise fail-safe or security precautions to assist guarantee trains wouldn’t derail,” the letter says. “In different phrases, [Norfolk Southern]’s proposal was to make use of [the public’s] security as their bargaining chip to additional pursue their file income underneath their cost-cutting enterprise mannequin.”

This proposal, despatched by the corporate because the East Palestine catastrophe was unfurling, is “unfathomably obtuse and shameless,” the letter concludes. The sick go away challenge has been a significant focus of union members over the previous months, as rail staff bought zero days of assured paid sick go away earlier than this yr.

The letter was signed by Jonathan B. Lengthy, chairman of the American Rail System Federation (ARSF) of the Brotherhood of Upkeep of Method Employes Division of the Worldwide Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED). Hooked up to the letter was a duplicate of the proposal that Norfolk Southern despatched to the BMWED, which the union didn’t conform to, Lengthy stated.

Lengthy additionally condemned Norfolk Southern for different profit-seeking strikes which have put rail staff in peril and doubtlessly contributed to the Ohio catastrophe and different crashes.

On the heart of the rail {industry}’s trendy revenue looking for is a cost-cutting mannequin often called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), Lengthy wrote. PSR was adopted by rail firms within the final decade to maintain trains operating with naked minimal staffing and to push rail infrastructure to — and sometimes over — its limits, as a way to line the pockets of rail executives and shareholders. The follow has long been the goal of rail employee advocates, and took center stage throughout final yr’s showdown between rail firms and their staff; staff have stated that it’s attainable the follow contributed to the crash in East Palestine.

Lawmakers should reign within the rail {industry}’s greed as a way to make railroad operations secure for all, the letter stated.

“Whereas the world was studying concerning the horrors occurring in East Palestine on tv, [Norfolk Southern] officers assessed the damages and carried out their plans for rebuilding the observe construction in order that they may get trains transferring once more,” Lengthy wrote. “In any case, if the trains usually are not transferring, the railroads do not make (as a lot) cash, and [Norfolk Southern] is not within the enterprise of railroading however as a substitute within the enterprise of creating file income for shareholders and Wall Road.”

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