Federal court grants restraining order on BNSF union worker strike. What happens next?

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A Fort Worth federal court has granted a restraining order blocking two unions representing BNSF Railway conductors and engineers from a planned strike on Feb. 1.

The Star-Telegram previously reported that a lawyer for BNSF said if the strike were allowed to go forward, BNSF will take a financial hit that it won’t be able to recover in arbitration.

Why are BNSF Railway union workers threatening to strike?

The two unions representing BNSF Railway workers, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD), threatened to strike over a new attendance policy.

The point-based attendance policy started all employees at 30 points. Points are deducted for times an employee is unable to work, whether it’s a full or partial day.

According to the attendance program document, the amount of points deducted depends on the day of the week and type of service or layoff event. Employees are able to gain points through consistent and reliable attendance for a full 14 days; taking time off during that window would reset the 14 days.

Jury duty or a doctor appointment, which could require multiple days off given the distances BNSF workers travel, would mean workers get docked, Chris Bond, chairperson of local SMART-TD chapter, told the Star-Telegram.

Representatives with BNSF said the issues with the new policy could be resolved without striking.

More: BNSF Railway worker strike could cause more shortages. A judge in Fort Worth will decide

How many BNSF workers are in the unions?

The Associated Press reported both unions affiliated with BNSF workers had a total of 17,000 workers — nearly half of railway’s total employees, which is about 35,000.

What does the restraining order mean for unionized BNSF workers?

The United States Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that unionized BNSF workers are temporarily restrained and enjoined from “authorizing, encouraging, permitting, calling, or otherwise engaging in any strikes, work stoppages, picketing, slowdowns, sickouts, or other self-help” against BNSF Railway over the new attendance policy.

According to court documents, if a restraining order was not placed on the unions from striking, BNSF would “suffer substantial, immediate, and irreparable harm,” which is considered by the court a more major issue.

“The Unions, however, will not suffer any harm as a result of a temporary restraining order that this Court, or an arbitrator, cannot remedy. The balance of harms therefore weighs in favor of injunctive relief,” U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman wrote in the order.

What kind of impact would a BNSF strike have on the supply chain?

The BNSF Railway averages around 1,200 trains per day and its network covers 28 states and serves over 40 ports. The railway ships both products and materials, from food and clothes to fuel supply for powering communities.

“Given the increasing demand for more consistent and reliable service, BNSF must improve crew availability to remain competitive in the industry,” according to the attendance program FAQ. “[The program] helps us by incentivizing consistent and reliable attendance.”

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