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NewsRail

Rail union mulls action against Union Pacific over COVID-19 woes

Union Pacific has filed suit in federal court to prevent union from striking

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) is threatening to take action against Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP), saying that the railroad hasn’t done enough to protect workers against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union, which is affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said it would take action if Union Pacific (UP) didn’t respond to safety demands by Sunday. 

“Hundreds of Union Pacific employees have contracted COVID-19 at work,” with two members dying and “dozens” hospitalized, BMWED said on Friday. UP employed 32,000 workers total in mid-November, according to data submitted to the Surface Transportation Board, including over 8,000 maintenance of way employees. The union is asking for full quarantine pay and “common sense COVID-19 safeguards on the job.”

“Our union leadership has urged UP management to do more to ensure our safety since the start of the Pandemic. Management is clearly more interested in grinding profits out of us for the shareholders than investing in our safety. Management’s greed in this moment WILL NOT STAND,” BMWED said. 

“Federal law protects our right to withdraw from service if dangerous workplace conditions present an ‘imminent danger of death or serious injury,’” the union continued.

In a Thursday letter to UP President and CEO Lance Fritz, BMWED outlined several measures that the union would like UP to adopt. They include:

  • Continuation of pay, which would encourage employees to be tested for contracting the coronavirus since they would not feel compelled to go to work because of fear of losing their earnings.
  • Access to testing on the job site and on company time.
  • Temperature testing prior to work shifts.
  • Contact tracing following an exposure at work.
  • Daily access to personal protective equipment such as face masks and hand cleaners, as well as adequate sanitation supplies in group areas and for machines and locomotives.
  • Social distancing requirements in public-use areas.

Union Pacifc’s response

Although the union didn’t specifically say on Friday that it would strike, UP said Monday that it has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska to stop BMWED from striking.

“Union Pacific had no choice but to take this threat seriously, and we were forced to seek court intervention to prevent the BMWED from acting on its threats. We have worked hard to ensure the safety of our employees, while continuing to move the goods and products that our country needs to support current freight demands and recover from the pandemic,” UP said.

The railroad continued, “We implemented a robust pandemic response to ensure that our employees remain safe and are compensated if required to be off of work because of a work-related exposure to the virus. We are unwilling to allow BMWED to unilaterally shut down Union Pacific’s 23-state operations — which are critical to the recovery of the American economy — based on concerns that have been, and will continue to be, addressed.”

UP has said previously that it provided union-affiliated “agreement employees” who have worked at least 30 days during the pandemic a one-time $1,000 gross bonus in December. The bonus applied to all current agreement employees, including those who have been furloughed, who have worked at least 30 days between March 1 and Nov. 30.

BMWED responded to UP’s comments by saying that UP’s COVID-19 protocols are “inadequate,” especially since the nature of the work of maintenance-of-way employees requires workers to be in close proximity with others. As a result, the union argues that continuing to work under those protocols creates an imminent threat of serious injury or death as defined under the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related articles:

Class I railroads grapple with COVID-19 as unions seek safety assurances

Freight interests, pilots press for priority vaccinations

Labor union presses railroads on additional coronavirus measures

COVID-19 vaccine distribution could start in mid-December, official says

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.

20 Comments

  1. To anyone who thinks unions are why our jobs and industrial base has gone overseas. Please do you home work. Unions are the one and only single reason that paid health care came about,and set the prescidents for Healthcare in the work place. The minimum wage is because of unions fighting for fair wages and therefore asureing that standard was adopted nationwide. If you want to slit union’s go overseas and get a job then compare minimum wage/fare compensation. Democrats and some Republicans are responsible our work leaving this country. The epa was to work with industry to set a clean air standard. So a standard was set,did they help industry to find solutions no. Meet the standard or shut down. But guess what if you can’t we can give tax incentives to go overseas to help industrialization 3rd world countries. What do you think happened,don’t blame the unions. Smog look at the fact most have no standard and we as well as the world suffer. Look back at history it is there,and sad to say schools do teach it anymore.

    1. You absolutely hit the nail on the head. In my 40 years I was upset as much as any other members at times.But I also realized without a union I couldn’t imagine working for the RR without one!

    2. We need a union to represent all truck drivers while on U S soil with a minimum wage rates of $21.00 U S per hour plus overtime and medical care once these drivers have 5000 hours experience. New truck drivers doing local work with 5000 hours experience at $17 .70 per hour or new O T R truck drivers for the first year as junior truck driver on a team. The treatment of transportation employees in the U S, Canada and Mexico is a disgrace.

  2. Corrupt unions at it again. Never mind they tend to stand up for laziness and inept yoyos that should be employed in the first place.

  3. A “Robust pandemic response”???? Seriously? A bottle of weak bleach solution and a towel that is used on every unit for days before it is replaced?! No hand sanitizer anywhere? And somehow the UP says they pay for people who are quarantined. What a joke. I know 1 person who got paid, and they had to fight for months to get that pay. These days we don’t even have a bucket of bleach water or a towel to use. Our own supplies are used to clean the units.

    1. The same thing in Ontario Canada by Amazon in their own warehouses. Some transportation employees have expired. Many truck drivers got coronavoius are going to not be able to be good enough health to work as O T R truck drivers again
      A Non profit group is currently hoping to some money from the Ont gov to provide a group home with a person to provide limited medical care

  4. I can’t even get my bosses to enforce U.P.’s mask requirement in buildings and vehicles. I complained once and was told that if I didn’t like what was going on around here that I could just quit. 23 years on the job and I’m supposed to just walk away because I don’t want to contract a potentially deadly disease. I am most definitely NOT being provided a safe work environment.

  5. Look if u want to wear one go ahead. But quiet whining about what others do! If u guys keep pushing these company’s to take action over this virus and threatening to strike. They will get the right to mandate the vaccine for u to continue working for them. No matter what effect it may have on u. Better be careful what u are pushing for. I for one don’t want to have to make a choice between my job and the vaccine.

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