OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The unions that represent roughly half of BNSF’s workers continue to fight against the railroad’s new attendance rules that they say penalizes them for missing work for any reason even though a judge has barred them from striking.
The unions launched a petition drive this week and renewed their call for a federal investigation of the rules that took effect last month, but they still haven’t decided whether to appeal the judge’s order or pursue arbitration to resolve their concerns. They say the rules pressure the 17,000 employees they represent to come to work when they are sick or fatigued and put them on call 24-7.
The heads of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation unions said the rules “penalize families by taking away what precious little time they have with their loved ones, leaving them dead tired and drained.”
The Transportation Trades Department coalition, which includes both those railroad unions, sent a letter urging the federal Transportation and Labor departments to look into whether the rules will jeopardize safety at BNSF and worsen the ongoing supply chain problems by prompting more workers to quit.
BNSF said the new rules are “providing more predictability for our train crews while also providing more reliable crew availability.”
The railroad has said the new system gives employees a clearer idea of where they stand than the old system did while the unions say it drastically reduces the number of days workers can take off because of fatigue or other concerns and makes it more likely that they will be called in to work after only a few hours of rest because of unpredictable train schedules.
A U.S. Transportation Department spokesman reiterated that federal officials are monitoring the dispute but said the Railway Labor Act ensures railroads and their unions can resolve disputes themselves without interrupting commerce.
BNSF, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, is one of the largest railroads in the United States, and it operates 32,500 miles (52,300 kilometers) of track in 28 western states.