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BNSF Railroad Company asks federal judge to block union workers from striking

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 5:11 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2022 at 5:12 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Contract talks between the biggest freight railroads and unions that represent 105,000 employees are headed to mediation this week after the unions declared an impasse following more than two years of negotiations.

The unions said Monday that the contract talks had deadlocked because the railroads are still seeking concessions, even after workers remained on the job throughout the pandemic and endured significant staff cuts in recent years as the railroads overhauled their operations.

The new attendance policy starts on February 1. It’s based on a points system.

Rachel Pharris is the president of the local Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Auxiliary in Springfield. Her husband has been an engineer for the BNSF Depot in Springfield for nearly two decades.

”You are deducted a lot more points on holidays,” said Pharris. “A lot more points on weekends and during the week isn’t that many. If it’s an out-of-town funeral and you need to be off for two or three days that’s a lot of points.”

Pharris said the new system doesn’t work well with families.

”Personally our daughters are involved in softball and of course, they have school things going on,” said Pharris. “They’re elementary age. It would hinder him from being able to take off things for that.”

The two unions, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation are threatening the company to strike.

“This unprecedented BNSF policy repudiates direct and clear contract language, and an application, will attempt to force our members to report for duty without regard for their medical condition as we struggle to come out of a pandemic,” said BLET president and SMART-TD president.

BNSF said it’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things and would cause a big Impact on customers especially during the supply chain issues. In a statement to KY3 the railroad said, “A strike would have a drastic impact on the nation’s economy.”

“These employees bend over backwards for this company,” said Pharris. “They’re on call 365 days basically. They have been good workers. They show their loyalty and this feels like a punishment.”

Full statement from BNSF:

“BNSF team members drive the railroad’s success, and we couldn’t deliver the nation’s goods without our employees. BNSF announced a new system that is designed to provide employees with real-time information and greater flexibility, so they can make informed decisions about their work schedules. This policy update is consistent with practices across the transportation industry while helping us safely and efficiently serve our customers and the communities that count on us. We feel the implementation of this new attendance program is permitted by long-standing past practice, the express and implied terms of our agreements with our unions, arbitral authority, and legal precedent. Therefore, we are asking a federal court to classify our disagreement with the unions over the implementation of this new program as something we can work together to resolve without striking. Because of the scope of our operations, even a partial or temporary shutdown would have a drastic impact on large segments of the public and the national economy. We understand that change can be an adjustment, but working together with our employees, we believe we can adapt to meet today’s competitive freight environment.”

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