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Norfolk Southern reaches sick leave agreement with locomotive engineers


Norfolk Southern and one of the largest unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), have reached an agreement over sick leave.

The two also have a second quality-of-life agreement that will need to be ratified by members. By ratifying that agreement, the sick leave deal will also be ratified.

The sick leave agreement calls for five days of paid sick leave per year plus the opportunity to use two additional days of existing paid time off as sick leave, NS and BLET said late Thursday in a joint news release. The agreement will affect more than 3,300 NS (NYSE: NSC) employees, or almost 25% of the railroad’s craft workforce. 

With this latest development, about 98% of NS’ craft workforce has tentative or ratified sick leave agreements. 

The unions, including BLET, had sought to address work-life issues and press for sick leave during the national collective bargaining process that began in November 2019, according to the National Railway Labor Conference, the group representing the Class I railroads at the bargaining table. But when the negotiations hit a wall last year, the three-member Presidential Emergency Board appointed by President Joe Biden recommended that the work-life issues be resolved at the local level. 

“We are proud to be the first to have reached a paid sick leave agreement for our dedicated BLET membership,” Dewayne Dehart, BLET general chairman for NS’ northern lines GCA, said in the release. “This trailblazing new deal ensures that engineers finally have access to the time they need and deserve to manage their personal well-being.”

Sick leave agreements between BLET and most other Class I railroads may still be at the negotiating table. While sick leave was a contentious issue during last year’s contract negotiations, sick leave agreements aren’t mandatory.

“I want to thank General Chairmen Dehart, [Jerry] Sturdivant, and [Scott] Bunten, along with National Vice President Rick Gibbons, for their efforts in securing this historic agreement,” said BLET National President Eddie Hall. “The BLET is currently working to secure similar sick leave agreements with the other Class I railroads, and I hope this settlement will help bring those negotiations to a positive conclusion.”

The second quality-of-life agreement includes language that bolsters the preservation of locomotive engineers’ earnings when they use sick leave, according to both parties, and the agreement offers a “greater protection for vacation time.”

“I deeply appreciate the contributions of our Norfolk Southern engineers and the longstanding partnership we’ve had with the BLET,” NS President and CEO Alan Shaw said. “This agreement builds on that relationship and continues our industry-leading effort to enhance quality of life as we become the first railroad to reach an engineer sick leave deal.”

Last month, NS and train conductors represented by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD) reached an agreement that not only includes sick leave but addresses scheduling, work-rule changes and meal reimbursements. 

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