According to Union Pacific’s CEO, the rail line is still locked in negotiations for a new labor contract with rail workers and freight railroads, and they are not anywhere near coming to terms.
Union Pacific’s CEO Lance Fritz said in an interview, “I wish we could have gotten an agreement earlier in the process. But the railroads and the union leadership are pretty far apart right now in terms of what we think is an appropriate settlement on wages.”
Having started all the way back in January of 2020, the talks involve about 115,000 union rail workers and over 30 railroads. Reportedly the main sticking point is wages.
Fritz continued, “What the railroad [and] what management is looking for is reasonable wage increases that are reflective of what’s happened in the economy in 2020, ’21, ’22, ’23 and ’24. This is a five-year wage package.” He added, “we’re also looking for reasonable modernization of work rules, things that have lasted decades and decades that, really, technology can handle today. We’re also looking at a reasonable step in the right direction when it comes to health care. Our health care plan is a Cadillac plan and what we need to do is continue to take steps towards mainstream plans for large union employers.”
After several attempts failed to reach an agreement, the Biden administration stepped in just before a deadline to sign an executive order appointing a Presidential panel to help resolve the issues and produce an agreement.
The board, composed of three members, has 30 days to examine all the issues in dispute and return their findings to the White House. From there, both parties will have an additional 30 days to seek an agreement.
At that point, if no agreement has been reached, the union could initiate a strike, or the railroads could call a lockout. At that point most observers believe Congress would step in and take actions to impose an agreement on all parties, given the potentially calamitous effects a cessation of all rail traffic in the nation could cause.
Fritz said, “I’m hopeful we will [reach an agreement]. We’re going to look to see what comes out of the presidential emergency board and then I anticipate we’re going to negotiate to an agreement from that. I think there is a place to be able to strike an agreement, and I think we’re going to get to one.”