Railroad employees receive substantial paid time off each year, as well as generous paid sick leave for longer-term illnesses. These policies position both workers and freight railroads for long-term success.
Through decades of collective bargaining, railroads provide multiple ways for employees to take time to care for themselves and their families while balancing the need to maintain safe, ongoing operations.
Railroad employees receive substantial paid time off each year, as well as generous paid sick leave for longer-term illnesses. Between vacation, personal leave and holidays, the average employee receives 25-29 days of paid time off depending upon craft, with the most senior employees receiving 37-39 days of paid time off.
Every single employee gets some form of paid sick leave, which differs by union because of the terms negotiated over multiple rounds of collective bargaining. Some unions have negotiated for paid sick leave instead of Supplemental Sickness Benefits, while others repeatedly prioritized generous long-term sickness benefits paid by railroads over payment for short-term absences. Protections are also in place — such as the Federal Hours of Service Act — to limit the number of hours employees can work and guarantee a certain amount of rest time.
Total compensation, including sick leave benefits, best-in-class healthcare and competitive wages, negotiated between railroads and their unionized workforce, position rail workers in the top 10% of all U.S. industries.
Time Off Policies
Freight Rail Attendance Policies
Each railroad attendance policy is different.
At their core, however, they work together with other time-off provisions and policies to ensure that freight railroads are adequately staffed, employees can appropriately manage unplanned and other events, and that employees satisfy their full-time work commitments.
Some railroads use a points-based attendance system. While each points-based system is different, they all provide employees with the flexibility to take reasonable amounts of time off, the ability to earn credits for regular attendance, and a way to challenge attendance-related actions that they believe may have been unwarranted. Other non-points-based systems pursue the same objectives.
Employers only take disciplinary action in circumstances where the limits of the policies have been reached, and such action remains warranted. Like in many other industries, it isn’t until an employee has had numerous or significant absenteeism events that a railroad begins evaluating next steps, which do not immediately escalate to termination. In fact, only a small number of employees ever get “attendance charges” because the entire process is designed to help employees maintain reasonable attendance — not simply discharge them.
Freight Rail Work Schedules
Most rail employees have normal, regular 40-hour work schedules that include set days off. However, the nature of railroading and the needs of rail customers require that some railroad employees – almost exclusively a segment of those who operate locomotives and trains in mainline road service and who are also among the highest-paid union employees – are subject to variable or on-call work schedules. Many complaints about attendance policies are actually about unpredictable work schedules. Although some operating craft employees have less predictable schedules, the PEB recommendation – and the resulting tentative agreements that have been ratified by eight of the twelve unions – requires that the carriers and unions address these issues and develop solutions at the local level. If the parties cannot reach agreements on these matters, a final and binding arbitration backstop is in place. These local discussions are expected to result in mutually beneficial changes that enhance predictability for employees while at the same time allowing the carriers to provide the best possible service to customers.
The Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), made up of Biden-appointed, neutral arbitrators, took concerns about paid leave into account when they released the historic recommendations on which the tentative agreements are based. Specifically, they said
- “Disputes over [attendance policy] issues, however, are best resolved in the grievance and arbitration process, not by an overly broad and very costly proposal that would create 15 paid days a year that, while nominally labeled as sick leave days would be structured to be used on demand.”
- “We understand the concerns voiced by the Organizations as to the circumstances that led to this proposal. We are simply not in agreement that this sick leave proposal is otherwise warranted or is the appropriate way to address the concerns. We have taken the changes in demands upon employees into account when we formulated our recommendations concerning the wage package, including the service recognition bonus component.”