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.”
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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.
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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.