• On BNSF, "31 points and you're out"...

    From Fishrrman@21:1/5 to All on Mon Mar 14 22:33:30 2022

    ‘Completely demoralized’: US railroad workers pushed to the

    American railroad workers are criticizing a new restrictive
    attendance policy at one of the largest railroad freight
    networks in the US, as they experience grueling schedules
    and labor cuts in the midst of new union contract
    negotiations, which have hit an impasse, prompting federal

    The Guardian spoke with several railroad trainmen and
    engineers who requested to remain anonymous as they are
    prohibited by their employer from speaking to the media.

    On 1 February, BNSF Railway, one of the largest railroad
    freight networks in North America implemented a new point
    system attendance policy, criticized by workers and unions
    representing about 17,000 workers, for being more
    restrictive, incentivizing going to work fatigued or ill,
    and increasing threats of discipline.

    One train engineer in the network’s Great Plains Region
    claimed they had to push back a medical procedure for a
    chronic illness to the summer, when they have vacation time
    off scheduled, as they would have used nearly all of their
    attendance points required for the time off needed for the

    “We feel stabbed in the back, completely demoralized with
    the work we did through the pandemic, understanding the
    situation, going the extra mile, and doing what we’re asked
    to do, and then some without complaint,” said the worker.

    The new attendance system appears arcane. Workers are
    allotted 30 career attendance points and docked several
    points for taking any days off, with points varying on the
    time of the week and days designated as high-impact days.
    Workers can get four points back after working uninterrupted
    for 14 days. Previously, workers were allotted five weekdays
    off a month and two weekend days off. Workers are
    continuously on call and have just over an hour to report to
    work when they are called in.

    “Fatigue is a chronic issue with almost everyone I know and
    work with. We manage it so it doesn’t get too severe,” they
    added. “We’ve been struggling through the pandemic with
    fatigue, exhaustion, and we have no chance to even catch our

    Despite the grueling work schedules, workers explained there
    is no room for error in the work they do given the important
    safety components of their job, such as transporting
    hazardous chemicals.

    Workers are legally permitted to work a maximum of 12 hours
    operating a train, but the worker noted it often takes
    several additional hours for relief to arrive and to get to
    a hotel or terminal when away from home. While always on
    call, the work hours vary widely and often change on a
    moment’s notice, making it impossible for workers to adapt
    to healthy sleep schedules, having to piece together naps
    whenever possible while waiting to be called into work.

    Workers say that even though high-impact days, such as
    various holidays including Super Bowl Sunday, are designated
    as seven attendance points, workers are not paid any
    additional pay for working those days.

    “You don’t know when they’re calling and they can call you
    at any time,” a worker said. “We’re still going through the
    pandemic, whether folks like to believe that or not, or
    abide by what’s going on or not, even though it’s lessened,
    you’re forcing folks to come to work sick because they’re
    scared to use points. You’re literally having them pick
    between ‘do you go to work sick and ill and not feeling well
    or do you save that time to be with your kids and your family?’”

    Another worker criticized the attendance policy, arguing it
    makes it even more difficult to take time off for medical
    appointments or to be able to take time off to spend with
    family as railroad workers spent most of their time away
    from home, waiting anywhere from 12 to 30 hours in a hotel
    room before being called back into work on a return trip to
    their home.

    “There are 17,600 employees that work with this new
    attendance policy, and not one of them will tell you that
    it’s a good program at all. It’s completely unmanageable,”
    they said.

    Workers represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive
    Engineers and Trainmen, and the Transportation Division of
    the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and
    Transportation unions mobilized and pushed for the right to
    strike over the new attendance policy, but a federal judge
    ruled the dispute was “minor” under the Railway Labor Act,
    meaning workers cannot legally strike over the policy.

    “This is a policy that, frankly, is just blind to the
    moment,” said Greg Regan, president of the transportation
    trades department, AFL-CIO, which represents 36 labor unions
    in the transportation industry. “They’re turning around and
    punishing their employees, because they’re faced with some
    of the challenges that they created themselves.”

    He argued staffing shortages and supply chain issues have
    been self-made in the industry, as drastic labor cuts have
    been implemented in recent years, reducing the workforce and
    lowering overall costs, while rail transportation companies
    have used the supply chain crisis to increase fees and make
    record profits.

    The attendance policy change was implemented as workers have
    continued working through the pandemic via contract
    negotiations between 10 unions and over 30 railroad
    companies that have been ongoing since fall 2019 amid
    widespread labor cuts in the industry since 2017 where over
    20% of staff have been cut under a new operating model.

    The industry is pushing to reduce two person rail crews, an
    engineer and a conductor, to one person crews, which unions
    and workers have criticized as a serious safety issue that
    will lead to an increase in train derailments, severely
    affecting communities around the country.

    “What the companies are offering at the bargaining table,
    you would think they’re facing declining revenue and
    decreasing profits, not recording the highest profit margin
    in the history of railroading,” Regan said. “It’s clear that
    the industry does not want to give an inch right now, and
    they want to continue to claw out as much profit as possible.”

    BNSF Railway, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s
    Berkshire Hathaway, reported record profits in 2021, with
    operating income increasing 13.7% to $8.8bn.

    A spokesperson for BNSF Railway argued the new attendance
    policy will provide more predictability for train crews and
    provide more reliable crew availability.

    “Our program is designed to provide ample time for
    obligations outside work, including planned vacations,
    personal leave days and unplanned absences while ensuring
    that we have sufficient employees available to work,” a
    spokesperson said in an email. “Based on initial feedback,
    BNSF has already modified the program. We look forward to
    continuing to work with our employees to gather input and
    refine the program if needed. BNSF team members drive our
    success and we couldn’t deliver the nation’s goods without
    them. We understand that change can be an adjustment, but we
    believe we can adapt together to meet today’s competitive
    freight environment.”

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