In the News
U.S. Court Ruling Favours Private Interests
Railway Workers in Bitter Fight to Defend Their Livelihood and Their Lives
U.S. railway workers are involved in a bitter fight to protect their livelihood, their health and literally their lives against the dictates of the rail monopolies being enforced by the courts.
In January, the BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Railway, one of the largest freight railroads in North America, which belongs to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, unilaterally decreed a new attendance policy called “Hi-Viz” that came into effect on February 1. BNSF workers consider the Hi-Viz the most reckless, unsafe and punitive attendance policy ever adopted by a U.S. carrier. Besides its operations in the U.S. the BNSF operates in Canada in three western provinces, with a 48 km section of track from the U.S. border to Vancouver, tracks and a yard in Winnipeg, approximately 110 km of joint track with the Canadian National Railway, which runs south to the U.S. border at Emerson, Manitoba, and less than a kilometre of track at the border in Northgate, Saskatchewan.
In January, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD), which together represent roughly 17,000 BNSF railroad workers, initiated votes to prepare for a strike that would have begun on February 1, with the main point of contention being the new policy. Ninety-nine per cent of those participating voted to strike.
On Tuesday, January 25, a U.S. District Court judge granted BNSF a temporary restraining order blocking the two unions from striking, declaring that a strike would cause the rail company “substantial, immediate and irreparable harm” and that “a strike would exacerbate our current supply-chain crisis — harming the public at large, not just BNSF.” On February 8, the temporary restraining order was extended until February 22.
Opposition is mounting amongst workers and people in the U.S. against these reckless moves. Workers and their allies have initiated petitions against the BNSF policy and the rendering of the workers’ fight illegal. The two unions are also challenging the legality of the court order.
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 28, 2022)