A Norfolk Southern Railway Maintenance union leader accused the company of trying to trade sick leave benefits for union approval on an experimental AI powered railway inspection process, according to a letter published by CNBC.
In the letter, sent March 1 and addressed to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, General Chairman of the American Rail System Federation (ARSF) of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED) Jonathan Long alleged that Norfolk Southern is “dangerous to America.” He claimed the company agreed to provide sick leave to union employees only if the union “withdrew its letter of opposition to NS’s experimental automated track inspection program to the Federal Railway Authority,” according to the letter.
Long provided an apparent Feb. 21 letter from Norfolk Southern’s Labor Relations Division, which he described as “an underhanded attempt to further raise their profits under their cost-cutting business model.”
Right now, the current requirement, BMWED says, is to do at least two visual inspections per week on class one freight railroad lines. NS proposal would eventually lead to inspections only twice a month, he says the proposal read.
NS has 19,500 miles of track.
— Kellie Meyer (@KellieMeyerNews) March 1, 2023
Current Federal Railway Authority (FRA) regulations require the railroads be inspected by a qualified human inspector, according to the letter. The automated track inspection is powered by an AI designed to seek geometric defects in the rail, but Long alleges they don’t detect every defect and they have no ability to detect non-track right of way issues. He concludes, “NS’s proposal was ultimately for the Union to be complicit in NS’s effort to reduce legally required minimum track safety standards through supporting their experimental track inspection program without a sensible fail-safe.”
Long clarified that BMWED is not opposed to automated track inspections as an addition to existing safety standards, but maintains they should not be used as a replacement for human inspection. He alleged that Norfolk Southern’s proposal would cut the human work force to save costs, according to the letter.BMWED and Norfolk Southern previously came to an agreement on sick days on Feb. 22.
Long added, “I am truly saddened that NS was willing to compromise the working-relationship between its management representatives and the BMWED in its quest for more record-breaking profits at the sacrifice of safety.”