Mr. Lurker, any railroad labor agreement I know of leaves the lodging matter quite vague. The agreements call for "suitable lodging" which means management and, likely, the Local Chairman have come together and decide "this place is; that place ain't".
We have members here at the site who have all but directly said they are in the airline industry. Here the matter, considering how much larger the airline industry is over the railroad, is magnified many times over same. So sometimes I must wonder when I learn that Officers get to stay at one hotel: Attendants at another. Guess who gets the better of the lot!!
Two factors come into play. There is the distinction dating from as long as there have been armed forces on this planet that officers and men live separately. But then back on the airlines, isn't an Attendant entitled to conditions that will have one as fit for duty as an Officer? Apply this now to railroads; aren't employees entitled to a night sleep so they are fit for duty next morning? Awful lot of ways in the MOW crafts to get hurt - big time.
I would think as a minimum, no employee should be directed to stay in anything less than a major brand "two star" (Comfort, Sleep, Red Roof, et al) and ideally a three star (Hampton, Express, Fairfield). At three stars - the level at which I personally stay for an overnight - I have noted workers within the utilities, construction, and, yes, railroads.
Finally Mr. Lurker, I realize that three years of my eleven-year railroad career was spent in Labor Relations, so yes, I do have knowledge about the duration of railroad labor agreements. I respect your noting that the, I like to think, above average intelligence of a New York Times reader has, still measures labor disputes by the picket sign "no contract, no work". But still I think The Times' reporter should have used language to the effect of "for which the means to resolve the issues by mediation have been exhausted".