In addition to last year’s historic deal cementing railroading’s place as one of the most highly compensated jobs in the U.S., today, most unionized employees at the nation’s largest railroads now have paid sick leave days thanks to local bargaining.

Last Updated: August 7, 2023

Railroad employees receive substantial paid time off each year and generous paid sick leave benefits. Excluding time off covered by sickness benefits, 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. Total compensation, including sick leave benefits, best-in-class healthcare and competitive wages, negotiated over decades of collective bargaining, position rail workers in the top 10% of all U.S. industries.

Historically, some unions have negotiated for paid sick days while others have negotiated for a “Supplemental Sickness Benefit” that prioritizes generous long-term sickness benefits overpayment for short-term absences. However, since the most recent round of national bargaining was concluded in December 2022, the carriers represented on the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) have reached more than 40 agreements to extend individual paid sick days to employees who previously did not have them.

As of August 3, 2023, the majority of the unions at the NCCC carriers, representing 78% of all craft employees, now have individual paid sick leave days in addition to pre-existing short- and long-term paid sickness benefits already in effect across the industry. While not all agreements are the same, they are all the result of bargaining, just as they should be – and discussions with the unions that have not yet reached individual paid sick day agreements continue.

Time Off Policies

Every 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.

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.