Major Freight Railroads Make Progress in Providing Paid Sick Time to Workers


In a significant development for the rail industry, Norfolk Southern has become the first major freight railroad to secure deals for providing paid sick time to all its workers. While other railroads are also making progress in addressing this crucial issue, nearly 60% of all rail workers have already benefited from this basic employment benefit since the beginning of this year. The inclusion of paid sick time has been a contentious topic that nearly led to a strike during last year’s contract negotiations. This article will explore the recent advancements in providing paid sick time within the rail industry.

Negotiations and Progress:

All major freight railroads, including CSX, Union Pacific, BNSF, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific Kansas City, have expressed their commitment to resolving the issue of paid sick time. However, many of these railroads are still in negotiations with their respective unions. In an effort to bridge the gap, most sick time deals, including the one announced by Norfolk Southern for yardmasters, offer four days of paid sick time. Additionally, workers have the option to convert three days of personal leave time into sick days. For conductors and engineers, who face unpredictable schedules while operating trains, five days of paid sick leave are provided, with the option to convert two leave days into sick time. Therefore, these agreements ensure up to seven days of paid sick time, and the railroads have pledged to compensate workers for any unused sick days at the end of each year.

The Shift in Perspective:

Last year, during the bitter contract talks, the railroads initially resisted adding paid sick time to the negotiations that had been ongoing for several years. However, following public pressure and advocacy from key lawmakers, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the railroads yielded this year. In the absence of their ability to strike due to concerns of an economic catastrophe, rail workers were compelled to accept a five-year deal that included 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses. However, the agreement did not address their quality-of-life concerns. The inclusion of paid sick time has marked a positive shift in addressing these concerns and ensuring workers’ well-being.

Positive Reactions and Future Work:

The recent agreement between Norfolk Southern and its workers, covering approximately 300 employees, has received praise from Jeremy Ferguson, the president of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers. Ferguson acknowledged that this agreement would provide yardmasters the necessary time to take care of their personal well-being. Moreover, a separate and more extensive agreement between SMART-TD and Norfolk Southern, addressing scheduling concerns for conductors, was ratified recently.

While Norfolk Southern and other major railroads highlight the progress made thus far, the Transportation Trades Department, which includes all rail unions within the AFL-CIO labor coalition, emphasizes that much work remains to address workers’ concerns. Ian Jefferies, the leader of the Association of American Railroads trade group, acknowledges the railroads’ efforts in securing paid sick leave agreements and greater scheduling predictability for operating craft employees but acknowledges the ongoing challenges that need to be addressed.


The introduction of paid sick time by Norfolk Southern and the progress made by other major freight railroads highlight the industry’s commitment to improving workers’ quality of life. This essential employment benefit ensures that rail workers have the necessary support to address their personal well-being and take care of their health when needed. While challenges persist, the inclusion of paid sick time sets a positive precedent for further advancements in addressing the concerns of rail workers in the years to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *