Rejection Wins Improvements on Norfolk Southern

September 19, 2008: BLET members on the Norfolk Southern railway have ratified a new six-year contract that contains improvements after voting down a weaker tentative agreement last year.

Members ratified the agreement by a vote of 1,894 to 1,091.

The biggest improvement is in wages. The new agreement raises wages an average of over three percent a year, with the biggest raises coming early in the contract.

For several years, NS engineers have gone without regular wage increases.

In place of wage hikes, they’ve participated in a bonus system that rewards them when the company reaches its financial goals. That’s left their base rate frozen. The new agreement will help NS engineers start to close the gap with other carriers.

By the end of the agreement, NS engineers will be at a wage level of around $29 per hour. Existing agreements on other properties already pay over $35 an hour. Other improvements include:

  • A significant increase in the weekend differential from $30 to $45 in through freight, and from $7 to $21 in all other service, will kick in on Jan. 1, 2010.
  • The away-from home meal allowance will go to $12, up from $9.
  • The 401(k) match will go to 30 percent in 2010.
  • The threshold for when held-at-away-from-home terminal payments kick in was lowered from 16 hours to 14 hours.

On the downside, engineers gave up a performance bonus provision currently capped at 15 percent of wages for a two-tiered system that starts at 10 percent. Higher standards are required for an engineer to receive the 15 percent bonus.

This agreement may also get Norfolk Southern one step closer to one-man crews, the long-term goal of the carriers.

The new contract spells out a scope agreement that limits the use of UTU remote control operators to within yard limits. But the agreement also sets rates for remote control operation by an engineer for on-the-road operations.

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