–This story is from the Summer 2023 edition of the IAM Journal
After almost three long and sometimes contentious years, the IAM Rail Division recently ratified a new, improved five-year Freight Rail Agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC). The accord is a critical initial step to addressing some of the industry’s biggest concerns.
The IAM Rail Division, which consists of IAM District 19, the Transportation Communications Union (TCU), and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), won many improvements in the contract, including 24% compounded wage increases, caps to healthcare costs, enhanced hearing benefits and added coverage for diagnosis and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder while protecting all the excellent benefits of their healthcare plans.
All Clerical, Carmen and Machinists members received thousands of dollars in back pay and an immediate 14% pay increase. In accordance with the agreement, retroactive payments, or backpay, was paid within 60 days. Another important gain was the inclusion of a “me-too” clause, which ensured IAM Rail Division members would have received the same additional value if another union reached an agreement that improved the terms of this agreement.
Families with Special Needs Children Feel Immediate Relief
For IAM Local 478 (District 19) member Karl Hoffman and his family, the improved benefits in this contract for autism and behavioral testing are game changers.
Karl served six years in the U.S. Army as an M1 Abrams Mechanic before joining the railroad as a locomotive mechanic at Union Pacific in 2005. He and his wife, Amanda, have five children. Their middle child, 11-year-old daughter Violet, was born with Down Syndrome.
“When Violet was born, she immediately was diagnosed with Down Syndrome,” said Hoffman. “Over the next few years, we learned about Down Syndrome and the challenges of raising a child with this condition.”
When Violet entered kindergarten, she started regressing. She began showing classic signs of autism, but unfortunately, she had aged out of their insurance coverage for autism testing and diagnosis. Karl and Amanda realized other issues were affecting Violet.
Violet became further delayed as time passed, and normal activities were more difficult. Daily life for the Hoffmans revolves around taking strict precautions to protect Violet and their other children.
“Violet has been assessed cognitively at between 12 and 36 months and is still in diapers,” added Hoffman. “She acts like a toddler who cannot communicate her wants and needs. These disabilities make life very difficult for everyone in our home. Due to her behavioral challenges, we cannot manage private or public outings, which can be unfair to our other children. When we do plan something, we need to coordinate with my motherin- law, Joan, to babysit Violet.”
The new contract will cover more therapy, primarily Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or Applied Behavioral Therapy (ABT), for children like Violet, who have autism.
“We love Violet immensely, and we get lots of joy watching her achievements,” said Hoffman. “With the new benefits in this contract, we have a glimmer of hope. We have made appointments to get Violet screened for Autism Spectrum Disorder, and once we have the diagnosis, she can begin ABA therapy.”
Journeyman Machinist Keith Tuten (pictured right) is an 18-year Machinist member from Local 625 (District 19) who works for CSX. He, too, has a special needs daughter, Blaise. She is 22 years old and has Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder. Young people afflicted with Asperger’s have difficulty relating to others socially, and their behavior and thinking patterns can be rigid and repetitive.
Blaise is a unique young lady. She is passionate about soundtrack racing and wants her next job to be at an auto parts store. She has worked part-time now for a year.
Communication training and behavioral therapy can help people with the syndrome learn to socialize more successfully.
“The insurance benefits we achieved in this contract for families with special needs children improves our coverage and offers us hope that we can afford further testing and diagnoses,” said Tuten. “We are grateful that our family, and families like ours, can give our children the best opportunity to lead fulfilling lives.”
Longtime Railroaders See Unprecedented Improvements in Contract
For veteran members like Earl Carlton Jr. and Willette Thomas, the new agreement is a breath of fresh air, laying the foundation for future improvements.
Carlton has been a Carman at CSX in Tampa, FL, for 28 years and has served as TCU/IAM Local 6633’s Chairman for the past three years. He has seen many changes over the years at CSX, too many of which have not been in the best interests of workers.
Much of that has changed now with the new Freight Rail collective bargaining agreement the IAM Rail Division has helped secure.
“It’s a great move towards progress for the workers,” said Carlton. “This contract provides the largest wage increase ever, and also provides increased benefits for hearing aids, mental health, substance abuse and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder. All of this is great news, as TCU/IAM has fought long and hard for these benefits, which are truly needed and appreciated.”
Willette has been a TCU/IAM member for 24 years, working various positions in payroll, accounts payable, and rail billing departments. The past nine years as a Crew Dispatcher for CSX in Jacksonville, FL. She has held several union positions and has been Local 1523’s Chairman (Unit 96) since 2020.
“I have seen the railroad go through many changes and contracts, and I must admit this was the first contract for me that really made an impact in my life for the better,” said Thomas. “My coworkers and I were elated with the ‘me too’ clause, which was the deciding factor for many to ratify. The 24% raise, and $1,000 yearly bonus were nice surprises. The contract highlights for me were removing the age restriction for speech therapy, increased hearing benefits and coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
While there are numerous improvements in the new agreement, some Rail Division members would like to see their carriers correct some of the remaining problems.
“They have expressed disappointment with their carriers’ sick leave and attendance policies and their failure to hire more workers to eliminate or cut down on mandatory overtime so they can spend more quality time with their families,” added Carlton. “Our union did a great job fighting for this contract. I’m confident that the progress made in this contract will lead to more improvements in subsequent contracts.”
CSX recently became the first major railroad to provide paid sick days. CSX agreed with about 1,000 mechanical workers in the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, who will now get paid sick days.
IAM District 19 and the IAM Rail Division also agreed with CSX to provide paid sick leave for the approximately 700 IAM District 19 Mechanical and Engineering Employees at the freight rail carrier.
Presently, the Carmen and District 19 have achieved paid sick time agreements with CSX, CN, BNSF, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern, which comprise five of the seven Class One Railroads.
These agreements provide for four paid sick days annually and the ability to convert up to an additional three personal days into sick days, for a total of seven potential paid sick days. Unused paid sick time will be contributed to the employees’ 401(k) account, or can be paid out at the end of each calendar year.
“This contract is a great first step towards correcting some of the issues that still exist,” said Josh Hartford, IAM Special Assistant to the International President for the IAM Rail Division. “CSX has stepped up, and now it’s time for the other freight railroads to do the same. None of the improvements we achieved could have been accomplished without our members’ solidarity throughout this lengthy process. Make no mistake; we are not satisfied. We will continue fighting to correct the remaining issues. I’m confident in our ability to do so because of the strength and resolve of our members.”
“The leadership of our union is committed to continuing our efforts to secure paid sick leave for all our Brotherhood of Railway Carmen members,” said TCU National President Artie Maratea. “This agreement is a huge win for our members at CSX. However, we are not done. We will continue to fight alongside our sisters and brothers to secure a better quality of life for all our members and their families at all railroads.”