Train engineers union reaches first sick-time deal with Norfolk Southern railroad

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The union that represents railroad engineers finally secured its first deal for paid sick time with Norfolk Southern, several months after other rail unions began reaching similar agreements with the major freight railroads.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen announced the deal with the railroad Thursday. Roughly 3,300 engineers who operate trains for Norfolk Southern will soon get five days of paid sick leave along with the option to convert two personal leave days to sick time, for a total of seven days a year.

This deal follows the model established by the conductors union in its first sick-time deals with Norfolk Southern and CSX. Those train crew workers are getting better deals, with five days of sick time, than the other smaller rail unions that received four days of sick time. But train crews work much more unpredictable and demanding schedules than other rail workers.

The railroads have also agreed to pay workers for any unused sick time at the end of the year.

More than a third of all rail workers have reached deals to gain sick time this year. The issue and other quality-of-life concerns nearly led to an economically devastating strike last fall. Congress intervened and blocked a walkout, forcing rail workers to accept a deal that more than half of them rejected.

Previously, the BLET union expressed frustration about the pace of sick-time negotiations and the demands railroads were making. Union officials said they didn't have to make any concessions to secure the deal with Norfolk Southern.

“It’s a transformative agreement,” said Scott Bunten, one of the union's general chairmen who helped negotiate the deal. “Of course we would have liked more days, but this is kind of a huge win for us because now our foot is in the door, so you know the next time we talk about this, we may get another day or two.”

One of the key parts of the agreement is that engineers won't be disciplined under the railroad's attendance policy for using sick time. Bunten said that is huge because otherwise, engineers might have been reluctant to use the benefit.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said the deal builds on the railroad's “effort to enhance quality of life as we become the first railroad to reach an engineer sick leave deal.”