OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Not only is CPKC lagging the trend of major freight railroads agreeing to provide paid sick time to most of their workers, but now some of its dispatchers may lose the benefit later this year when they move to the merged railroad’s new U.S. headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.

Rail unions estimate that less than 10% of CPKC’s U.S. workers have paid sick time, compared to nearly 90% of the more than 100,000 workers across all six of the biggest freight railroads. Before last year, paid sick leave was generally not offered to railroad workers. But most of the major railroads have since been changing that as they address the quality-of-life concerns that nearly led to a nationwide rail strike in 2022 that could have crippled the economy.

The head of the American Train Dispatchers Association sent an angry public letter to CPKC executives and shareholders this week about the 35 dispatchers who will lose their sick time when they move from Canadian Pacific’s old U.S. headquarters in Minnesota to the new U.S. CPKC headquarters in July. The union says the railroad created by last year’s merger made the dispatchers choose between the old Kansas City Southern contract that offered 11% higher pay but lacked sick time, and the legacy Canadian Pacific contract that offered lower pay but included sick time.

ATDA President Ed Dowell said CPKC “exploited its merger as an opportunity to strip sick leave benefits from some of its most safety-critical employees.”

CPKC says the Calgary-based railroad is willing to negotiate sick leave anytime but it negotiates dozens of agreements individually with all of its unions when their contracts come up. That’s instead of joining all the other major freight railroads in negotiating jointly with rail unions on an agreement over pay and benefits. Spokesman Patrick Waldron said the agreement with the dispatchers is the result of negotiations since the merger.

“CPKC and its unions have sick days included in multiple collective bargaining agreements in the United States and continues to offer to negotiate the addition of sick days with the ATDA as part of the agreement in Kansas City,” Waldron said. “While not all collective agreements are the same, they are all the result of the collective bargaining process.”

And CPKC has spent much of the past year since its merger was approved negotiating new agreements with its unions as it combines the workforces of Kansas City Southern and Canadian Pacific across North America and consolidates it operations.

The rail industry reached the brink of a strike in the fall of 2022 before Congress and President Joe Biden intervened to force rail workers to accept a contract. Several unions had already voted down the deal because it didn’t address their quality-of-life concerns, but lawmakers wouldn’t let them go on strike because the risk to the economy was too great.

CSX was the first railroad to announce a sick leave deal early last year and now has nearly all of its workers covered. Union Pacific, BNSF and Norfolk Southern now have paid sick time agreements in place with all their unions. Canadian National also trails behind the big U.S. railroads, but still offers sick time to about 46% of its U.S. workers.

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