By Justin Franz
FORT WORTH, Tex. — A federal judge in Texas has issued a temporary restraining order to BNSF Railway, preventing nearly 17,000 railroaders from walking off the job over the Class I’s new attendance policy going into effect on February 1.
Earlier this month, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Transportation Division of SMART announced that they were polling their members on whether or not they should walk off the job over a new attendance policy being pushed by BNSF. Union officials call it “the worst and most egregious attendance policy ever adopted by any rail carrier.” Sources close to the unions said that a strike was likely and that many members were in support of it.
The new “Hi-Viz” policy would institute a new point system for employees. They would lose points for various absences, including needing to take time off for a family emergency or funeral. Union officials said that the new policy violated various bargaining agreements currently in place between labor and the railroad. But the railroad said it has not updated its attendance policy in 20 years and that it’s necessary to remain competitive. The railroad also said the new policy would enable employees to better plan time off.
Last week, BNSF sued the unions to prevent a strike before it happened. In court documents, they argued that any work stoppage would have a major impact on the American economy and exacerbate ongoing supply-chain issues. The judge, Mark T. Pittman, agreed, writing in his order that “a strike would exacerbate our current supply-chain crisis—harming the public at large, not just BNSF. A temporary restraining order will thus serve, rather than disserve, the public interest.”
While the judge did not rule on the merits of BNSF’s new policy, or if it was a “minor” or “major” dispute, he wrote that the union should negotiate a compromise instead of going on strike. The restraining order is in effect until February 8.