By Justin Franz
FORT WORTH — A Texas judge has ruled that a dispute between two of the nation’s largest rail unions and BNSF Railway over the Class I’s new attendance policy is a “minor dispute,” meaning any work stoppage against the railroad would be illegal.
In January, 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.”
The new “Hi-Viz” policy would institute a 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.
Before the unions could strike, BNSF sued and won a temporary restraining order in court. Now, a judge has ruled that the railroad and the unions will have to hash out their differences in traditional negotiations and that going on strike cannot be a tactic in those talks. Union officials said they were “infuriated” by the decision.
“One of the largest and richest corporations in America has been given a free pass to continue forcing its employees to work even when they or their families are sick, and when they are fatigued beyond the point of being able to work safely. BNSF is essentially thumbing its nose at the employees who make them billions of dollars in revenue,” union officials wrote in a statement.