July 25, 2014

Who owns the railroads

By Assistant President Arty Martin and
GS&T Kim Thompson

Among the most difficult challenges facing us in 2009 arrives in November, when we exchange Railway Labor Act Section 6 notices with the carriers — the list of each side’s demands for the next collective bargaining round.

Our national rail contract is open for renewal on Jan. 1, 2010, and this upcoming bargaining round will be among our toughest ever given the deteriorating state of the national economy, the advance of technology and Wall Street pressure on railroads to deliver increased profits.

While the national rail contract affects members on only BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific, these national contracts tend to be a trend setter for bargaining on other freight railroads and Amtrak, and are frequently referred to by commuter railroads.

A reasonable individual might have good reason to assume the upcoming bargaining round will be favorable to employees. After all, railroads are among today’s few solidly profitable industries in America, and Wall Street confirms they have unprecedented pricing power. Moreover, the carriers continue to improve productivity, and it is the workers — especially operating craft employees — who are most responsible.

Indeed, the railroads’ own figures, as published by the Association of American Railroads, show that revenue ton-miles per employee — the best benchmark for measuring productivity — has soared five-fold since 1980, from 2.1 million revenue ton-miles per employee to almost 11 million revenue ton-miles per employee today.

Accordingly, the railroads’ labor costs have declined by 43 percent — from 46.5 cents of every revenue dollar in 1980, to 26.4 cents of every revenue dollar today.

This is because the employee headcount has dropped from 532,000 in 1980 to 236,000 today — a 56 percent decline in workers, while productivity has soared. Among train and engine service employees, the head count fell from almost 136,000 in 1980 to fewer than 70,000 train and engine service employees today.

Unfortunately, none of this matters to the carriers at the bargaining table, because it is hot Wall Street dollars that set the tone of carrier Section 6 notices.

Perhaps you have noticed Wall Street investment funds have been buying up shares of the major railroads.

BNSF, for example, is 46 percent owned by Wall Street investment funds. At CSX, the figure is 35 percent; at Union Pacific, 34 percent; at Kansas City Southern, 33 percent; and at Norfolk Southern, 32 percent, according to Bloomberg News.

These investment funds, some of them based in foreign countries, have a narrow focus of increasing stock price and increasing dividend payouts — often without concern to an appropriate level of railroad maintenance, and certainly without concern for employees and their families.

For sure, investment funds are behind the anti-labor policies at Wal-Mart and policies that export good American jobs overseas.

What a labor union does is to fight back — and the UTU will be spending the months leading up to the exchange of Section 6 notices by building our case on behalf of our members.

Who Owns the Railroads

BNSF  
Berkshire Hathaway 21.8%

Capital Research Global

5.6%

Barclays Global

3.3%

UBS Global

3.0%

Vanguard Group

2.8%

State Street Corp.

2.7%

Fidelity Mgt.

2.4%

Capital World Invest.

1.7%

JP Morgan Chase

1.2%

Barrow, Hanley

1.2%

Total

45.7%

   

 CSX

 

Citigroup

5.4%

Barclays Global

4.7%

Children’s Invest. Fund

4.5%

3G Capital

4.4%

Deutsche Bank

4.2%

State Street Corp.

3.6%

Vanguard Group

3.2%

Tiger Global

1.9%

Bank of N.Y.

1.6%

JP Morgan Chase 1.3%

Total

34.8%

   

 KCS

 

Neuberger Berman

6.2%

Wellington Mgt.

5.7%

Marathon Asset Mgt.

4.1%

Barclays Global

3.6%

Vanguard Group

3.0%

Keeley Asset Mgt.

2.8%

Bank of America

2.4%

Prudential

1.9%

Munder Capital Mgt.

1.9%

AXA

1.8%

Total 33.4%
   
Norfolk Southern  

Capital Research Global

5.0%

Marsico Capital Mgt.

4.8%

JP Morgan Chase

4.7%

Barclays Global

4.5%

State Street Corp.

3.2%

Vanguard Group

3.1%

 Fidelity Mgt.

 2.7%

Pioneer Investment

1.3%

Dimensional Fund

1.3%

Capital World Invest.

1.1%

Total

31.7%

   

Union Pacific

 

Marsico Capital Mgt.

6.6%

Children’s Invest. Fund

4.7%

Barclays Global

4.4%

Capital World Invest.

3.4%

State Street Corp.

3.2%

Vanguard Group

3.0%

AXA

2.9%

Fidelity Mgt.

2.5%

Bank of America

1.9%

Berkshire Hathaway

1.8%

Total

34.4%

Source: Bloomberg News