Another reason for the supply chain crunch: daft personnel policies


Looks like the bean-counters are holding the reins at BNSF, one of the country’s biggest rail companies.  A Montana newspaper reports:

Freight trains don’t usually run on a set schedule and they don’t stop moving just because it’s a weekend or holiday. However, on the flip side of that unpredictable lifestyle was the fact that for many years railroads could provide workers with great compensation and benefits without requiring a college degree. The good pay and benefits were the reasons Wassam hired on back in 2014.

But Wassam says working conditions on BNSF Railway, one of the largest railroads in the country, have worsened in the last few years, and the introduction of a new attendance policy earlier this year — one union officials have called “the worst and most egregious attendance policy ever adopted by any rail carrier” — was his last straw. He resigned in March and he’s not alone. In the last three months, more than 700 railroaders have walked off the job at BNSF because of it, according to the union.

“It felt offensive,” Wassam said of the new attendance policy. “I gave so much to this job, and this new system made it seem like it wasn’t enough.”

. . .

Starting Feb. 1, the railroad implemented a new attendance policy called “Hi-Viz” that assigns all employees 30 points. If they miss a call or take an unplanned day off, even for a family emergency, sickness or fatigue, they lose points. The exact number of points deducted depends on the type of absence and where it falls on the calendar (weekend days and holidays cost more points). An employee can get four points back if they’re available to work 14 days in a row. If an employee loses all their points, they can be disciplined. If they lose their points multiple times they can be fired.

. . .

In 2021, BNSF posted record-breaking profits, despite moving fewer carloads of freight than it had before the pandemic.

Regan, the president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, said the railroad’s decision to implement a strict new attendance policy while making billions of dollars in profit has resulted in a demoralized workforce. Because of that, he’s not surprised that some employees are calling it quits.

There’s more at the link.

We see this pressure on our local rail line as well.  BNSF runs it, and more trains than ever are moving through town – at all hours of the day and night, and much faster than usual, too.  I’ve no idea how many staff are affected by the increase in operations, but it’s got to be a very large number;  and the extra stress and fatigue have got to be telling on them.  It’s a serious concern.  We have at least half-a-dozen rail crossings in town, and any one of them might be the scene of a very nasty accident if train or vehicle drivers lose concentration.

Given the railways’ protests that they can’t keep up with demand, one wonders how these resignations will affect their ability even further.  I hope we don’t find out the hard way.  Sadly, bean-counters aren’t really interested in anything except the bottom line, and their own corporate advantage.



  1. I know folks who work out of our local BNSF yard, and yes, it's gotten very bad. Another factor is the increasingly-common practice of miles-long "Precision Scheduled Railroad" monster trains, and the inevitable accompanying derailments. This letter to the Surface Transportation Board describes the problem from a train engineer's perspective.

  2. I'm with the Union Pacific. Our policy is not much better and has been in effect for a couple years now.

    I've seen employees with 10-15 or more years of seniority leave. That's used to be unheard of.

  3. We use a point system much like the local Casinos were as you build up points for being absent but can be nullified by a doctors note.The point system we use starts talk of termination at 10 pts 12 pts is termination.A no call no show on F,S or Sunday each day is worth 6pts.I am sorry but the program was implemented maybe seven years ago and weeded out the stragglers and continues to do so.I go to work I do not call out maybe not for a whole year many others do not also it's called ole school get your arse out of bed and go to work.

  4. Yeah. You don't understand the railroad. At all.

    You have a days you go to work? You have days you don't go to work? You know when you are going to work? You know when you are getting off work?

    Railroaders don't have any of that. No schedule. At all. Wanna know when I'm going to be off work? Your guess is as good as mine. If I have to have a doctor's appointment I need to take call off two to two and a half days ahead of time just to make sure they don't call me out of town prior to it.

    I usually have to call in sick before my vacation so they don't call me to work a trip out of town five minutes before my vacation starts.

    That's before we even get to taking about how many hours a month we work.

    Before making a statement about something, you should really try to know wtf you are taking about.

  5. I usually have to call in sick before my vacation so they don't call me to work a trip out of town five minutes before my vacation starts.

    Well Sir that a F-up situation for sure my apologies Yes I was not aware then F-em.

  6. Yep, and they will STILL park a train for four days in Tiny Town because they don’t have crews to run it… sigh

  7. I bet this is part of the management view that all employees are interchangeable where morale, training, etc don't matter.
    I know of local companies who are trying to do this also and getting hurt by it.
    They want workers to switch facilities each day, driving up to 2 hours with notice that morning.
    This company, with thousands of local employees, is losing an average of 17 employees a day to morale and other issues.

  8. RR are big money.
    Back in another century, I was working on a tunnel project involving a RR line in Northern California.
    The contract specified a $10,000 per MINUTE penalty for delaying a train beyond our scheduled interruptions in traffic.
    This was almost forty years ago. I would imagine that the penalties are much higher now.

  9. May the folks in charge be violated with a rusty Meadow Creature broadfork…sideways. Whoresons. May their children despise them, and their wives leave them. This is the sort of thing that makes you realize why unions became a thing.

  10. Never let an accountant run a business. Every time I've seen it they destroy moral, productivity and customer loyalty, then wonder why they go out of business. I get the RR is practically a monopoly – things will get worse.

  11. Oh, the stories I could tell of Dad coming home bitching about yet another Southern Pacific "trick" to have freights delay passenger — not a lot of profit in passenger and the railroad(s) wanted to get rid of it. They succeeded. Now WE pay to subsidize it. Only "regular" jobs were those very few assigned to run passenger. For 90% or more of Dad's, and our, existence it was a phone call to report. Will you be taking the company bus? I saw little of Dad because of the railroad.

  12. Seems like a pretty lenient policy to me. You get 30 points to start with, and if you burn all 28 on unexcused absenses, you can get them all back with 3 months of perfect attendance. This should not be a hardship. If serious family or medical issues come up, then FMLA is available for you until it clears up. Companies have to have a stable, reliable workforce to run the business, and point systems have become the norm. And BASF seems to have one of the more lenient I have seen.

  13. An 'unexcused absence' to you is what a railroader needs to take in order to have an actual day off.

  14. A few heavy manufacturing plants here use the point system as surprisingly does Goodwill Industries. Too many people were blowing off work on a whim.

  15. Damn, I touched on this on the other RR article Peter posted, prior to reading this one.

    Another analogue with merchant marine labor pool issues. My employer went from a family owned tugboat company to a national (and soon international) shipping company in just a few years. As a result, the accountants now have more power than they once did and a manpower crisis developed finally, but a deep decline in morale also happened.
    One interesting difference is that my employer has always been good about scheduled time off, and not all have. This is a result of there being more than 4 companies in the US in my business, unlike railroads, but it also means that maritime companies that willingly create hardship in getting time off also have to pay more. Railroads don't have that sort of competition for talent.

  16. Railroads have an interesting (i.e. sordid) history. Not much more than 100 years ago 55,000 railroad workers a year were killed in railway accidents. Just in my own family one relative, a rail car inspector, was cut in half (the death certificate says bisected) by a rail car. I imagine the same types of people run the industry today that ran it before. They just have a few more legal restraints imposed upon them nowadays. If life is cheap than quality of life isn't even a distant second.

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