“I just want to be treated like a human!”—BNSF workers voice opposition to punitive hours

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Opposition continues to grow among BNSF railroad workers to a new, punitive points-based “Hi-Viz” attendance policy. Under the policy, which is due to come into effect on February 1, workers will start with 30 points and lose points each time they miss work for any reason. After losing a certain number of points, workers will be subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

A BNSF rail terminal employee watches for a departing freight train, June 15, 2021, in Galesburg, Illinois. The BNSF railroad wants a federal judge to stop two of its unions from going on strike next month over a new attendance policy that would penalize employees for missing work. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar, File)

Workers voted almost unanimously earlier this month to approve a strike against the new policy, which was unilaterally imposed by management. However, a Texas federal court issued a temporary restraining order against the strike on Tuesday, on the grounds that the policy, which would threaten to lock workers entirely to their jobs with no time for their families, was a ‘minor issue’. on whose workers are prohibited from striking by the reactionary Railway Labor Act.

Following the publication by the WSWS of a lengthy interview with a BNSF engineer, several other workers contacted the WSWS to denounce the attendance policy. A worker with 17 years’ experience at BNSF said: ‘With the policy we have right now, I can go anywhere from four to six days without seeing my family while they’re awake. With the new policy, this will happen much more often.

BNSF said its new attendance policy will make work schedules more predictable. But the worker explained that bad queues force workers to take time off to rest. “All the time, my schedule shows me that I’m not going to work until, say, 8:00 a.m. the next day,” he said. “Then as soon as I lay in my bed at 10:00 p.m. they called me to go to work. Then I have to spend a sleepless night without sleep because they can’t give me a train timetable They blame it on people calling in sick, but that has nothing to do with it. It’s because the company doesn’t keep accurate train times.

Moreover, the 30-point system is itself misleading. “You really don’t have 30 points,” the worker said. “If you’re called to work and fall into a wreck on the way, you’ll lose 17 or 20 points. This means that you always have to keep as many points as you never know when you will crash.

Even under its current attendance policy, the BNSF punishes workers not only for being absent for medical appointments, but also for having medical emergencies. “Under the current system, I personally know a guy who was punished for missing work when his wife had a great evil seized,” the worker said. “The company had no sympathy for him!

“My quality of life is so horrible that I would gladly give up a raise and even my health care if I could be treated like a human!” concludes the worker.

A BNSF conductor from Kansas City, Missouri, told the World Socialist Website on how the unpredictable work schedule causes significant hardship. “We don’t have any days off or a schedule,” he said. “I’m on call most days. Many weeks I will be called to work and take a 12 hour trip, and I will have to spend almost the equivalent of time in a hotel and then leave.

Long and irregular hours affect workers’ personal lives. “It’s extremely difficult to have a family,” said the conductor. “I’ve never known anyone else to have a job like this. It’s so demanding on your time, knowing that every time you go to work, you’ll never know when you’ll be home. Against this backdrop, the BNSF’s new attendance policy will limit workers’ time off and “make an already bad situation worse,” he said. “I know a lot of people who are considering quitting because they don’t think they can work and live under the new points system.

“We’re going to come to work tired more often, and that’s a safety risk,” the conductor said. “In addition to moving almost everything across the country, including stuff for UPS, FedEx, Amazon and things like cars, we also move hazardous hazardous materials across cities.

“Part of our job is to inspect the cars before bringing them into the yard. We check for liquid leaks, gas leaks, we make sure everything is safe, we make sure the cars are not damaged. Drivers do a lot of these checks. Being tired and not being alert at work will create dangerous situations. I’m talking about the leakage of hazardous materials in populated areas.

Former BNSF employees have described the harrowing conditions they endured at the company. “I worked there for 22 and a half years before I couldn’t take it anymore,” said one worker. “I couldn’t even make an appointment with the doctor or the dentist for fear of being fired. It’s like a Hitler dictatorship – their way or the highway. And it seems no one can stop them. They have too many smart lawyers. They hire the best in their class every year from Harvard and Yale.

Workers on other railways told the World Socialist Website that they face the same pressures as BNSF workers and have expressed their solidarity with them. “As a member of a railroad crew, myself and my co-workers were forced into a similar attendance policy about 18 months ago,” said a Union Pacific worker. “These policies are so restrictive and do not allow for any regular hours or family life. We have lost several employees who are victims of these constraints.

Other workers quit because of conditions like those at BNSF. “I worked for the Union Pacific Railroad in Seattle, Washington,” said one worker. “I resigned on January 23 because of working conditions after eight years. We have a policy almost identical to that of the BNSF. »

BNSF employees don’t “just cry and complain,” said a worker who took a job at the Norfolk Southern Railroad in 2005. “This was going to be my last job, and I loved working there- down,” he said. “Fast forward 15 years, and I couldn’t take it anymore.”

The railways are on a relentless campaign to cut costs by cutting the workforce. “These railways want to move all this freight with as few people as possible,” said the former Norfolk Southern worker. “The [workers] who try to hold on are absolutely punished. This work is hard on your family life, your social life, your marriage, the life of your children and your body. I can’t tell you enough how strenuous and challenging the schedule for this job can be.

“If you really like someone, get them as far away from their job as possible for a class 1 railroad. The only reason railroads hire like crazy is because they don’t haven’t found a way to do it without them….These railroads don’t deserve hard workers like you….I left the railroad after 15 years of service and haven’t looked back .

CSX Transportation, another freight railroad, uses a point system like the one BNSF introduced. “Our working conditions are deplorable – we have men quitting in record numbers,” said a CSX worker. Quits are not uncommon, even among new hires, due to the company’s treatment of the workforce. “It’s not because of COVID or the big quit, but they’re convenient causes to blame. It started before one or the other.

The CSX worker referred to the Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) system which is used to reduce costs. “When questions arise,” the worker said, “they say they’re following the PSR strategy, and everyone says, ‘OK, it’s a complex plan that only railroad executives can understand, so I won’t question it.’ Is everyone blind to the fact that this is a term for scamming a business Thousands of people are suffering from the greed of a few dozen millionaires Please help us this story you wrote is old news to us, and we need to shed some light on the industry.

A retired railway worker put the current situation in the context of downsizing in recent decades. “In the early 1980s the train crew size was reduced from four or five per train to three,” he said. “In the late 1980s, most trains operated with two people. Most labor agreements included buyouts, advance payments, and incentive programs for workers with more seniority. It was done by attrition.

“With attrition comes the incentive for the railroads to create poor working conditions,” the worker continued. “Make work as unpleasant as possible, by increasing the number of people quitting. Rail companies have been stuck at two people per train since, say, 1990. They have increased their “efficiency” by dramatically increasing the length or tonnage of trains.

A one-person crew has long been an industry goal. “There was a major push by the railroads to reduce the crew to one 15 or 20 years ago,” the retired worker said. “It came to an abrupt end with the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster in Quebec, Canada, nine years ago. The incident involved a train with a one-person crew. I thought at the time that the disaster set back the railroad’s search for smaller crews by 10 years. As usual, they are in front of me. Apparently, just under nine years is enough to forget the death of a city.

The current harassment by the railroads is a rerun of their pursuit of one-person crew, the retired worker continued. “Make work unbearable. Make it easier to quit when the railroads introduce their next crew reduction program. They won’t settle for just one worker on a train. The technology has been around for many years to have that 2-mile-long, 10,000-ton train running through your city operated remotely.

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