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The National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) announced today that its members, including the nation's largest freight railroads, are beginning a new round of contract bargaining with 12 labor unions representing nearly 125,000 railroad employees.In their bargaining proposals, the railroads are seeking to “better align compensation to market conditions and pay levels of comparable industries;" make changes to health-plan design that would allow more cost sharing; and make changes to work rules, including those that affect train-crew staffing, NLRC officials said in a press release.In delivering their notices, the railroads stressed that reaching new labor agreements would ensure U.S. rail employees remain one of the best compensated workforces, while allowing railroads to leverage new technology — including developments in automation and safety — to help manage an uncertain economy and long-term structural changes in rail traffic."This is not the first time in the industry's long history that railroads and our employees have faced tough challenges," said Brendan Branon, chairman of the NLRC and the National Carriers' Conference Committee (NCCC), the representative for freight railroads in national bargaining."But through thoughtful leadership and a willingness to meet our challenges head on, together we can ensure railroads continue to fuel the American economy," he said. "We look forward to a constructive bargaining round and reaching agreements to secure a successful future for the industry."The freight railroads and unions negotiate under the Railway Labor Act, which is designed to minimize service disruptions because of labor disputes. Under the law, collective bargaining agreements remain in force indefinitely.The bargaining notices serve to inform the other party of proposed changes to collective bargaining agreements. The previous bargaining round began in 2014 and was concluded in 2018.The NCCC represents more than 30 railroads in national bargaining with rail unions. Included in the group are BNSF Railway Co., CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern Railway, Union Pacific Railroad and the U.S. railroads owned directly or indirectly by CN.