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(Source: Progressive Railroading 02/13/2020)

The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) yesterday announced that a federal court in Texas has issued an order allowing freight railroads to begin negotiations over train crew staffing with the union that represents conductors.

The court’s decision confirms that the union’s objections to collective bargaining must be arbitrated and, in the meantime, negotiations over the railroads’ proposal to redeploy conductors shall proceed, NRLC officials said in a press release.

The NRLC’s largest members, including the major U.S. freight railroads, filed a lawsuit last October in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth against the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division (SMART-TD).

The union claimed that longtime labor agreements bar negotiations over crew staffing on freight trains. The railroads countered that collective bargaining is the proper forum to discuss the issue and that bargaining should proceed while the union’s objections could be resolved in arbitration.

The court’s decision upheld the railroads’ position. In particular, the court found that the union’s refusal to bargain is a violation of federal law. The court ordered SMART-TD to “bargain in good faith with each of the railroads” over train crew redeployment and staffing issues, NRLC officials said.

In the new bargaining round, which began Nov. 1, 2019, the railroad industry is seeking to apply new safety and operational technology to facilitate redeployment of train conductors, they said.

“The court ruling allows for serious discussions over all aspects of crew staffing,” said Brendan Branon, chairman of the NRLC and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, the bargaining representative for the major U.S. freight railroads. “The industry wants to work collaboratively with SMART-TD to shape a future, ground-based role of the

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