By Justin Franz
OMAHA — A union representing maintenance of way employees on Union Pacific has threatened to go on strike if Union Pacific does not do more to protect employees during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and now the dispute has spilled into a courtroom.
On December 18, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees made a series of public safety demands — including asking for full quarantine pay and what it called “common sense” COVID-19 safeguards — or its members would walk off the job in late December. According to the union, at least two members have gotten sick and died because of exposure to the virus at work.
“Our Union leadership has urged UP management to do more to ensure our safety since the start of the pandemic,” union officials wrote. “Management is clearly more interested in grinding profits out of us for the shareholders than investing in our safety.”
Two days later, UP filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nebraska alleging that the union’s threat to strike was in violation of the Railway Labor Act. On Dec. 23, a judge handed down a restraining order against the union preventing it from going on strike until at least Jan. 8, 2021, and setting a hearing on the matter on Jan. 5.
The threat of a strike over COVID-19 came just a month after the railroad announced that it would be giving a one-time $1,000 bonus to any union employees who worked at least 30 days during the pandemic.