BNSF provides answers to family members who picketed to promote awareness

Randy Peterson, a BNSF veteran of 36 years, Lisa Schuldies and Donna Peterson were among a crowd of people picketing in Guernsey May 10. The informal picket was to raise awareness with the public of the BNSF Railway policies.

GUERNSEY – Family members of BNSF employees participated in a nationwide picket to promote awareness of what they considered unfair and unkept policies by the BNSF railroad.

 

In an article that the Platte County Record-Times and the Guernsey Gazette published last week, it was stated by Kevin Knutson, Local Chairman, SMART-TD LOCAL 465, “BNSF Railway employees, family members, retirees and members of the public held an informational picketing on May 10, 2022 across the nation. In Gillette and Guernsey, employees of both Guernsey and Gillette took part with a total turnout of 100 individuals.”

“The goal of this informational picket was to raise awareness with the public of the BNSF Railway policies that are not only degrading our workforce and harming our families but directly impacting our communities and increasing the cost of goods for all Americans,” Knutson said. “The informational picket was also an effort to spotlight how BNSF Railway is directly at fault for the regressive policies causing these hardships.”

 

Protracted policies that started before the pandemic have reduced the workforce. Now, a mandated policy has reduced time off for existing employees, causing a fatigued workforce with limited family time, and increasing public safety concerns. Here are a few policies that workers and families are wanting the public to be aware of:

 

Withholding employee contracts for the last three years.

For the last three years employees have worked without contracts due to the company’s unwillingness to bargain in good faith the contracts.

 

Hi-Viz attendance policy

On February 1, 2022, the egregious attendance policy known as “Hi-Viz” was mandated. The point-based system has further reduced time off for an under-resourced workforce and created a regressive working environment of despair and indignity. The fear of losing career-long points created by this policy, has resulted in employees working while sick and fatigued to escape censure and/or dismissal. This policy puts safety in the backseat and employees at risk.  

 

Reduction of workforce

Before the pandemic, BNSF Railway began reducing workers on the extra board who provide relief support for fatigued/sick/family leave workers and reduced the overall workforce. Instead of setting the standard for other class 1 rail providers in the country, they are leading the way in the degradation of their workforce safety through practices and policies.

 

Slowing service

The BNSF Railway is reporting all-time high profits. At the same time, it is lying to their customers, employees and inflating costs that directly impact the American people and the customers we serve. Slowing service and increasing customer costs in the supply chain adds to end-consumer inflation of the price of goods. This is corporate interference, not a ship stuck in a canal. BNSF Railway employees are working tirelessly to compete with a company that is more concerned with a profit number than their customers or workforce.

 

“Once again, the informational picket was organized by the family members, employees, and retirees who are exhausted of the constant abuse from BNSF Railway,” Knutson said. “Through their efforts, they hope to raise awareness and inspire a change in policies. We, as families, friends, employees and retirees, have never experienced such an antagonistic approach to a workforce and their employees before.  Protracted policies have created a reduced workforce that started before the pandemic, and now have mandated a policy to reduce time off for existing employees. Employees of BNSF Railway call for their company and railways around the nation to start SERVING customers instead of making excuses for policies and practices that highlight their corporate greed. While our families are suffering, the impacts will stretch beyond the immediate BNSF Railway. We need the public to know.”

 

In Guernsey, retired railroad worker Randy Peterson and wife Donna were a part of a group that were picketing near the “Welcome to Guernsey” sign at the eastern edge of town overlooking the BNSF rail yard.

“I think this picket has a lot to do with availability policies,” he said. “They’re making these guys work all the time and they are restricting their time off. They are limiting sick days, vacation days, how many people can be off at a terminal at one time and it’s making it very difficult for people to be off. From what I understand, they’ve had a lot of people quit.”

Guernsey resident, Lisa Schuldies who has children working for BNSF in Gillette and she mentioned that she has listened to her daughter’s concerns over the high visibility policies.

“They are not being able to take time, they are penalized points,” Schuldies said. “My daughter is a conductor and my son-in-law is also a conductor and they are only allocated a certain number of points. Once their points are gone, they can lose their job. It’s very likely that they will lose their job, which has resulted in less of a workforce.”

Schuldies said that due to the lack of workers and the disorganization in the schedule, there are times that her daughter, a mom of two children may be away from home for up to 36 hours.

“I understand that railroads may not be a family business, I think that we need to take a look at this,” Schuldies said. “I think they need to take better care of their employees than they have been.”

After the article had printed, the media team from BNSF responded with the following:

“BNSF implemented an attendance policy in February, known as HiViz, designed to improve the consistency of crews being available for their shifts to run trains which in turn drives service consistency and reliability for our customers while also improving predictability and transparency for our crews around when they will go to work.

 

As with any change, it’s important to monitor progress and adjust as needed. To that end, BNSF leadership made several changes just a month after the initial rollout and promised an additional review after 90 days.

 

That review has now been completed and while the program is working as intended, BNSF has gathered feedback from employees, many of whom shared thoughtful ideas and suggestions. Considering that input, BNSF made modifications to the program June 1 to provide additional clarity and flexibility to employees.

 

It is important to note that there has been no change in how much time off an employee receives. More than 50% of train crew employees work less than 40 hours a week on average. Generally, train crew employees have over 3 to 4 weeks of paid vacation and over 10 Personal Leave Days. The number of Personal Leave Days was increased by 25% this year which makes it easier for employees to take time off.

 

In fact, since starting HiViz, we have seen more planned vacation days taken than before the change. In addition, employees can’t work more than 6 days in a row under federal law. Time off between each shift averages around 24 hours and since the attendance policy was implemented, we have seen that increase.

 

We currently have more train crew employees today than we did a year ago, coupled with a robust 2022 hiring plan that already has 300 new employees currently being trained.

 

Class I freight railroads are currently in collective bargaining process and BNSF remains committed and eager to work toward a swift and fair resolution to the collective bargaining process. In anticipation of an agreement, BNSF continues to set aside funds for pay raises. The sooner an agreement is reached, the sooner our union-represented employees get pay increases and we can all focus on what we do best—running one of the largest freight rail networks in the world.

 

BNSF team members drive our success and we couldn't deliver the nation's goods without them. We are committed to adapting together to meet today's competitive freight environment.

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