Dues, Direct-dealing and Discipline

Working in a union environment is considerably different than working in an environment free of union representation. There are dues to pay; discipline to defend; and union representatives that operate between employees and their management team.

The first difference is the monthly union dues collected from each employee working in the represented craft or class. The law has long recognized unions in the freight railroad industry may require all employees working in a specific craft to pay union dues. In other words – individuals can’t opt out of paying dues, even if they do not want union representation. In recent years, some ATDA-represented train dispatchers paid monthly dues of up to $106 per month.

The second big difference – there is a collective nature to interactions with management. This means there is a person, often a local or general chairperson, who is the intermediary between the employee and management. The law prevents management from dealing directly with union-represented employees about compensation and conditions of employment. This can reduce management’s ability to nimbly respond to employees’ needs and concerns.

Finally, agreement employees are disciplined in a very formalized manner. Discipline for agreement employees under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) generally centers on rule violations:

  • Employees facing potential discipline receive a Notice of Investigation, identifying the alleged rule violation and providing a brief description of the incident.
  • During an investigation hearing, a union representative represents the employee while the management team provides proof of the violation.
  • Following the hearing, management determines if the proof supports discipline; if it does, the employee is provided with a Notice of Discipline assessed. As a matter of managerial prerogative, Union Pacific has a progressive discipline policy. However, some rule violations are so egregious, immediate termination is pursued.
  • After discipline is assessed, the RLA provides an appeal process for the employee through arbitration. This can take several months – even years – to conclude.