By Justin Franz
FORT WORTH — Two of the nation’s largest railroad unions are asking the federal government to investigate the attendance policies of Class I railroads, guidelines labor leaders say threaten safety because it could force railroaders to work while tired.
The request comes just weeks after the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Transportation Division of SMART threatened to go on strike over a new policy at BNSF Railway. The “Hi-Viz” attendance policy assigns points to employees that they can lose if they miss work for non-approved reasons. If they lose enough points they could lose their jobs. Union officials call it “the worst and most egregious attendance policy ever adopted by any rail carrier.” But the railroad said it is consistent with what other railroads are doing.
Railroaders typically use “lineups” to figure out when they’re going to work, but that system can be imperfect. The unions said the new attendance policy makes it impossible to take time off if someone isn’t feeling as if they can do their job safely.
“For example, it is commonplace for these employees to be suddenly called into work for an evening shift when they didn’t expect to be called in until the morning according to the available train lineups,” union officials write. “Under BNSF’s new Hi-Viz policy, even though they may be fatigued, they are not allowed to refuse the unpredicted call for duty without potentially being subjected to employer discipline, up to and including dismissal. Forcing these employees to choose between their job or their safety in the workplace is in complete contradiction to BNSF’s obligation to protect public safety and to provide a safe workplace environment.”
The unions sent a joint letter to Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking for a full review of the policies.
Meanwhile, BNSF is still trying to prevent a strike from happening over the policy. In late January, a federal judge in Texas gave the railroad a restraining order against any potential strike but that order is set to expire on Tuesday. The railroad has asked for it to be extended.