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Railroads’ office attendance insurance policies on the coronary heart of labor dispute : NPR


Staff service the tracks on the Metra/BNSF railroad yard in Chicago

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Staff service the tracks on the Metra/BNSF railroad yard in Chicago

Scott Olson/Getty Photos

Like so many important staff within the pandemic, the engineers and conductors who drive the nation’s freight trains have had it.

They’re uninterested in unpredictable, rigid work schedules. They’re uninterested in 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 convey trains to a halt nationwide on Friday.

Freight railroads and the unions representing greater than 100,000 rail staff have been negotiating a contract for a number of years. The stakes are excessive and a presidential emergency board appointed by President Biden beneficial a compromise over the summer time that may give staff a 24% improve in wages. Each side — the unions and the railroad firms — have basically 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 a press release in Might.

The unions now desire a change to the coverage to make sure that staff can take time without work to are likely to medical wants when needed, with out concern of self-discipline.

In the course of the pandemic, railroads introduce a coverage that staff hate

Factors-based attendance insurance policies should not new. Employers, together with Amazon and Walmart, use them as a method to scale back sudden 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 have been basically on name on a regular basis, outdoors of paid trip and private go away days (which they do accrue in quantities decided by seniority). Once 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 useful 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, end in 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 staff can earn again factors, together with by being obtainable to work for 14 consecutive days.


A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) engine pulls a practice loaded with coal in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson/Getty Photos


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Scott Olson/Getty Photos


A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) engine pulls a practice loaded with coal in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson/Getty Photos

People went on a pandemic shopping for spree after railroads had wall again employees

A variety of components put stress 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 a number of stuff that needed to be moved, and BNSF says it wants constant and dependable attendance to remain aggressive.

Nonetheless, freight railroads had walled again their workforce dramatically since 2015 in a bid to scale back prices and improve earnings. They launched modifications akin 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 pink flags as a result of the workforce had shrunk by 29% — or about 45,000 workers — during the last six years.

With a leaner workforce, rail staff describe difficulties in scheduling time without work even for anticipated occasions. You’ll be able to’t depend on getting your most popular holidays off, particularly in case you lack seniority. Even for different days, staff are sometimes informed they can not have the time without work as a result of too many others have already requested it.

The points-based attendance system penalizes anybody who tries to bypass the system by merely calling in sick on a day that they’d requested off however have been denied.

The system additionally finally ends up penalizing people who find themselves really 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 , Calif. She can also be the nationwide president of a bunch of relations and different supporters of the rail staff’ union known as the BLET Auxiliary.

BNSF Railway stands by the coverage

BNSF says it made modifications to its attendance coverage earlier this 12 months primarily based on worker suggestions, together with growing the variety of factors a employee can accrue with good efficiency. Since beginning its points-based attendance system, the corporate says it has been seen extra deliberate trip days taken as in contrast with earlier than the system was in use.

BNSF additionally says this 12 months it elevated the variety of private go away days by 25%. The presidential emergency board has additionally beneficial one extra day of paid go away as a part of the employees’ bundle.

It is nonetheless not sufficient for the unions. After laboring by way of the pandemic, they are saying, staff deserve higher.

Bisbikis says there’s been a mass exodus of staff 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 cope with it.”

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