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Like so many important employees within the pandemic, the engineers and conductors who drive the nation’s freight trains have had it.
They’re bored with unpredictable, rigid work schedules. They’re bored with being penalized for taking days off after they’re sick or tending to a household emergency. They need a greater high quality of life.
Now, they’re making their voices heard, threatening a strike that would carry trains to a halt nationwide on Friday.
Freight railroads and the unions representing greater than 100,000 rail employees have been negotiating a contract for a number of years. The stakes are excessive and a presidential emergency board appointed by President Biden really useful a compromise over the summer season that may give employees a 24% enhance in wages. Each side — the unions and the railroad corporations — have primarily agreed to the board’s financial proposals.
However there stays one main sticking level that would derail all of it: a office attendance coverage that the unions name draconian.
“This abusive and punitive attendance coverage is breaking up households and inflicting locomotive engineers and different railroaders to return to work dangerously fatigued,” the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen mentioned in an announcement in Might.
The unions now desire a change to the coverage to make sure that employees can take day off to are inclined to medical wants when essential, with out concern of self-discipline.
In the midst of the pandemic, railroads introduce a coverage that employees hate
Factors-based attendance insurance policies should not new. Employers, together with Amazon and Walmart, use them as a approach to scale back surprising absences from work. However such insurance policies are pretty new to railroads.
BNSF Railway launched its model, known as Hello-Viz, in February 2022, saying it could enhance consistency for each crews and prospects. The unions say it has solely made issues worse.
Even earlier than the system was launched, railroad conductors and engineers had been primarily on name on a regular basis, outdoors of paid trip and private go away days (which they do accrue in quantities decided by seniority). After they get known as to work, they often have both 90 minutes or two hours to report back to work.
Beneath Hello-Viz, if they’re unavailable to report back to work in that window, they’re docked factors from a beginning stability of 30. Deductions vary from 2 to 25 factors, relying on the day. The extra helpful the day, the upper the deduction.
Meaning Fridays, Saturdays, holidays and so-called “high-impact days,” together with Mom’s Day and Tremendous Bowl Sunday, lead to bigger deductions. When their level stability falls to zero, they face a 10-day suspension.
After that, their factors are reset to fifteen. If their stability falls to zero once more, it is a 20-day suspension. If there is a third time, the employee faces termination.
There are a number of methods employees can earn again factors, together with by being accessible to work for 14 consecutive days.
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People went on a pandemic shopping for spree after railroads had pared again workers
Quite a few elements put strain on the railroads to implement such a system. For one factor, cargo volumes within the pandemic soared to file highs, as People went on a shopping for spree. There was merely quite a lot of stuff that needed to be moved, and BNSF says it wants constant and dependable attendance to remain aggressive.
Nonetheless, freight railroads had pared again their workforce dramatically since 2015 in a bid to scale back prices and enhance income. They launched modifications similar to working fewer however longer trains, and ready till trains are full to depart the terminal.
The federal Floor Transportation Board Chair Martin Oberman testified in April 2022 that he’d raised purple flags as a result of the workforce had shrunk by 29% — or about 45,000 staff — during the last six years.
With a leaner workforce, rail employees describe difficulties in scheduling day off even for anticipated occasions. You possibly can’t rely on getting your most well-liked holidays off, particularly in case you lack seniority. Even for different days, employees are sometimes informed they can’t have the day without work as a result of too many others have already requested it.
The points-based attendance system penalizes anybody who tries to avoid the system by merely calling in sick on a day that they’d requested off however had been denied.
The system additionally finally ends up penalizing people who find themselves truly sick or have emergencies or household issues to take care of.
“We had a union member who missed a funeral, and one other one who needed to attend a funeral… and their factors ended up getting zeroed out,” says Kathleen Bisbikis, whose husband has labored for the railroads for twenty-four years out of Stockton, California. She can be nationwide president of a gaggle of members of the family and different supporters of the rail employees’ union known as the BLET Auxiliary.
BNSF Railway stands by the coverage
BNSF says it made modifications to its attendance coverage earlier this yr based mostly on worker suggestions, together with rising the variety of factors a employee can accrue with good efficiency. Since beginning its points-based attendance system, the corporate says it has seen extra deliberate trip days taken as in contrast with earlier than the system was in use.
BNSF additionally says this yr it elevated the variety of private go away days by 25%. The presidential emergency board has additionally really useful one extra day of paid go away as a part of the employees’ package deal.
It is nonetheless not sufficient for the unions. After laboring by means of the pandemic, they are saying, employees deserve higher.
Bisbikis says there’s been a mass exodus of employees due to the attendance coverage.
“I am not speaking about simply younger guys who… do not have quite a bit invested, to allow them to go begin one other profession,” she says. “I am speaking about older, invested, 21-plus years on the railroad. They’ve left. They’ve left as a result of they simply do not need to take care of it.”