Shipping and Logistics

BNSF Railway Unions Threaten to Strike

Written by David Schollaert

BNSF Railway union members have taken steps towards a work stoppage over a new attendance policy introduced during national negotiations by the railroad company.

Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation union (SMART-TD) – who collectively represent roughly 17,000 members at BNSF – are prepared to strike in protest of the Hi-Viz attendance policy, scheduled to take effect on Feb.1.

“This unprecedented BNSF policy repudiates direct and clear contract language, and in application, will attempt to force our members to report for duty without regard for their medical condition as we struggle to come out of a pandemic,” said Dennis Pierce, BLET’s national president, and Jeremy Ferguson, SMART-TD’s president.

The new policy introduced by BNSF establishes a points-based system that, according to the unions, can be used to penalize employees who take time off from work. The unions argue that the pending policy contradicts numerous collectively bargained agreements currently in place throughout the BNSF system.

Union leaders also argue that the latest change policy will take away any ability their members have to “avoid working fatigued.” They also contend that measures in the new policy will “stand to enact irreparable harm to an industry where safety is so critical.”

BNSF has publicly said that it “has not changed its attendance guidelines in more than 20 years” but that the new system “is designed to provide employees with real-time information and greater flexibility, so they can make informed decisions about their work schedules.”

The railroad claims that the policy update is consistent with practices across the transportation industry, while helping the company “safely and efficiently serve” its customers and the communities. The change is to “adapt to meet today’s competitive freight environment,” said BNSF.

The strike is still pending at least two-thirds majority approvals from the local jurisdictions. A work stoppage that disrupts rail transport would be another blow to the steel industry, which is already struggling with various bottlenecks.

By David Schollaert,

David Schollaert

Read more from David Schollaert

Latest in Shipping and Logistics

CRU: Baltimore bridge collapse affects more than half of US thermal coal exports

A container ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, causing it to collapse. This has blocked sea lanes into and out of Baltimore port, which is the largest source of US seaborne thermal coal exports. The port usually exports 1–1.5 million metric tons (mt) of thermal coal per month. It is uncertain when sea shipping will be restored. But it could be several weeks or more. There are coal export terminals in Virginia, though diversion to these ports would raise costs.