May 24, 2023

Norfolk Southern and rail union presidents renew safety commitment


Norfolk Southern and the heads of 12 unions have pledged to work together to improve safety, sending a letter to all craft and management employees describing the renewed partnership.

The letter, signed by NS President and CEO Alan Shaw and the presidents of the 12 unions, comes as NS (NYSE: NSC) and other Class I railroads face federal scrutiny over railroad safety. A Feb. 3 derailment of an NS train in East Palestine, Ohio, brought a national spotlight on the issue of rail safety, with federal regulators and industry stakeholders following the accident seeking to define whether and how rail safety should be better addressed.

The letter calls for the company to “do better” through more collaboration, a review of best practices, employee input and consultation with experts, according to NS’ Tuesday news release. 

“Protecting the safety of workers is one of the founding values of labor unions, and union leadership advocates tenaciously on behalf of the safety and wellbeing of our people,” the letter said. “Management at Norfolk Southern shares that deeply held value, and invests time, energy, and resources to provide our people with the training, equipment, and technology to support safe operations.”

It continued, “We won’t agree on everything. That’s okay. Our belief in the importance of safety unites us. We want our people to show up to work every day knowing their employer and their union are working diligently to help them do their jobs safely.”

The union national presidents that signed the letter were those representing the American Train Dispatchers Association; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division; and Transportation Communications Union.

Shopcraft unions signing the letter were Brotherhood of Railway Carmen; International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Mechanical Division; International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; National Conference of Firemen & Oilers; and Transport Workers Union.  

In an unrelated event this week, an attorney representing seven rail unions sent testimony to the Surface Transportation Board that sought to bolster the argument that sufficient head count at the Class I railroads can enable the railroads to provide improved service. That testimony also called on STB to revise the common carrier obligation.

Another union calls for passage of a congressional rail safety bill

As NS and union leaders expressed a renewed partnership to improve rail safety, the president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers called for U.S. senators to vote in favor of rail safety legislation that recently passed the Senate Commerce Committee.

IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. said the Railway Safety Act not only calls for safety improvements but also work-life improvements for railroad carmen and machinists.

“For our members specifically, the bill prohibits the railroads from placing impossible time constraints on rail car and locomotive inspectors. … The bill would also require more frequent locomotive and rail car safety inspections, while ensuring that these inspections are performed as intended and by highly trained and qualified personnel,” Martinez said.

IAM says its members include locomotive machinists as well as members from affiliate unions, the Transportation Communications Union and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen.

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