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BNSF tries to stop worker strike as employees continue to fight for rights

KCEN received a letter with 25 stories from spouses of railroaders on Monday. It came as BNSF asks a federal judge to prevent a potential strike.

WACO, Texas — The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Corporation is asking a federal judge to stop a potential worker strike.

The company argues that their new Hi-Viz attendance policy should be considered a minor dispute, which prevents a worker stoppage, something agreed upon in the Railway Labor Act. 

No motion was filed in court as of Monday evening. This comes as employees continue to fight for their rights, saying the new policy is unfair. 

Nichole Bischoff, the wife of a railroader, sent a letter via email to KCEN on Monday with over 25 personal stories from different spouses. 

"My husband can’t even attend any of his appointments, he is supposed to be going three times a week for PT, once a week for a mental health, on top of a monthly appt with his PCP," one anonymous spouse wrote in the letter. "He has already gotten dropped from a couple providers for poor compliance. Even the tele visit is impossible as he cannot schedule it or predict a month out. The days he has off he tries to call and see if anyone can squeeze him in, but because of the population and lack of providers, it’s not as simple as being squeezed in. No choice of appts, they tell you when they can see you." 

Many of the stories in the letter regarded bad health as a factor for railroaders not getting time off for appointments, some dying, and many missing family events or crisis situations. 

"When my daughter was 3 years old she fell and fractured her skull and needed to be air lifted to another town," another anonymous spouse wrote. "I needed him. He was not able to lay off away and come to us until she was stable." 

“It’s like we’re single parents and its awesome when they’re around, they do their best, they try so hard," Bischoff said in a phone call with KCEN. "So many parents wanna be at every trick or treating event, every school function, baseball game and they just can’t, and our kids learn to live with it.”

BNSF says this is their first update to attendance policy in 20 years, but their lawsuit does state minor changes have been made, like adding high impact dates (holidays) which employees would be penalized for if they took off. 

“We have a 5-year-old and she’s realizing that daddy leaves," Bischoff said. "She begs him to stay, daddy please don’t leave, please don’t leave and it breaks his heart.”

Credit: Nichole Bischoff

On Monday, legal counsel for BNSF said they could not comment on the situation. The company later responded to a media request with a written statement, saying: 

"BNSF team members drive the railroad's success, and we couldn't deliver the nation's goods without our employees. BNSF announced a new system that is designed to provide employees with real-time information and greater flexibility, so they can make informed decisions about their work schedules. This policy update is consistent with practices across the transportation industry, while helping us safely and efficiently serve our customers and the communities that count on us.

We feel the implementation of this new attendance program is permitted by long-standing past practice, the express and implied terms of our agreements with our unions, arbitral authority, and legal precedent. Therefore, we are asking a federal court to classify our disagreement with the unions over the implementation of this new program as something we can work together to resolve without striking.

Because of the scope of our operations, even a partial or temporary shutdown would have a drastic impact on large segments of the public and the national economy. We understand that change can be an adjustment, but working together with our employees, we believe we can adapt to meet today's competitive freight environment."

The policy is set to take place on Feb. 1. The two unions currently fighting BNSF represents more than 17,000 railroad employees. 


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