Labor Movement / Trade Unions

BNSF Railroad Workers Resist Cruel Attendance Policy

By Marilee Taylor

CHICAGO, February 10, 2022—My name is Marilee Taylor. I am currently a locomotive engineer, employed at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) in Chicago. I have worked for Burlington Northern (BN) and then BNSF for more than 28 years. I’d like to take a minute to introduce the video posted below.


On February 1 of this year, BNSF imposed a draconian attendance policy on those of us who work in the operating crafts, engineers, conductors, switchmen and brakemen. That is, those of us who actually move the freight on trains across the country from Chicago to the West Coast and back. We are members of two unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation TD (formerly known as the United Transportation Union, now SMART TD).

The video below explains the cruel and severe nature of BNSF’s new policy. In the face of this new attack, our memberships voted, respectively 100% and 99.5%, to go on strike over this issue. A federal judge in Texas sided with the BNSF and granted a wide-ranging Temporary Restraining Order to the railroad that enjoins every single one of us, not only from striking, but also from any other job action to defend ourselves and protect our rights. This undemocratic anti-union ruling also enjoins us from discussing the matter in any way! The judicial language directs against “encouraging or promoting” any job action in our own defense. 

BNSF, the largest freight railroad in the United States, owned by billionaire Warren Buffet, imposed a draconian attendance policy of only one day off per month on its workers moving the freight across the country. (Photo: Screenshot from YouTube video)

This video is produced by More Perfect Union, which also posts other news on union issues of interest to working people on YouTube. Featured here is an interview with Ron Kaminkow, a locomotive engineer at Amtrak in Reno, Nevada, and the General Secretary of Railroad Workers United (RWU). RWU describes itself as “an inter-union, cross-craft solidarity ‘caucus’ of railroad workers, and their supporters, from all crafts, all carriers, and all unions across North America.”

The video helps us to get the truth out about the issues involved and the dangers of the forced BNSF’s attendance policy aimed at denying railroad (RR) operating employees, who already often work 60 hours a week or more, any quality of life at all. Most importantly the video focuses on how this policy will dangerously affect our own safety as workers, and the safety of all our communities. The BNSF is not the only RR that seeks to impose such draconian policies. The risk of more rail accidents and potential disasters affects the entire country.

Marilee Taylor is a locomotive engineer and member of BLET Division 32, based in Aurora, Illinois.

22 replies »

  1. BNSF does nothing but preach safety, safety, safety. It’s all a charade, and with this new attendance policy, they will work their employees to death quite literally.

    • Having been raised in a totally railroad family, this is what my father did as a Conductor. He would have 8 hr rest from the time he pulled into the yards. Then would be eligible to be called out 8 hrs after that. If he wanted time off to come to graduation, he had to lay-off. Don’t remember him having sick or personal days either. When I caught the mumps, the paymaster came to the house to bring his check. Mom couldn’t pick it up! If the railroad threatened to strike, the Taft-Hartley Act was invoked and stopped it! I can remember him putting chains on to go to work in blizzards.
      After he retired, friends came to visit that were still working. By then it was BNSF. They issued them a cell to be able to reach them, But he was complaining that the “young guys” just wouldn’t answer. When Dad was working, if the RR needed to call him for work and couldn’t reach him, they would call the local phone company and have them break into the line.
      I remember how angry he and co-workers got when they removed fireman off the trains. I saw that same anger when they took the cabooses off the trains. Wasn’t too long after that, he switched to Amtrak and finished his career.
      I won’t even go into when the railroad started hiring women as switchmen and trainmen!

      I myself have worked for companies that use the same guidelines. It may not be right, but it is a job. Not defending the policy, or lower pay scale, and benefits. But part of it is they need trains to move, as a part of National Security. And it seems that people have abused the system over the years, and were not fired for their abuse.

      I see room for compromise. But over the last 40-50 years the government has let companies merge creating the problems and monopolies. Warren Buffet has interests in both BNSF and UP. I have seen layoff in the yards and shops in my area. Railroad used to be a hard working,
      good paying job with great retirement. But like everything these days, Unions have little power. Corporate money floods government buying elected officials. Until we the people start demanding better treatment and higher taxes on corporations and wealthy, you are their servants.

      • neliberal1–I don’t know where you are coming from. I started working in 1966. At the time it was the CB&Q RR. Later it became the Burlington Northen after that the BNSF. Alot of your comments about the working conditions I never experienced. Why would the paymaster come to your house if you had the mumps couldn’t your dad pick up his check? Yes I was working when you had to pick up your own checks. If you could not pick up your check on payday you picked it up when you had a chance. The biggest one you said that the RR would have the phone company break into the line so they could call you to work had me scratching my head. Thanks for the laugh. That’s just a couple of the things you talked about that I never experienced in all my 41 years on the RR. Most of your comments must come from a different railroad than I work for.

  2. I posted to Facebook and urge EVERYONE to contact your Congress person, Senator, the President and Warren Buffet.

  3. Its all about profit, and could care in the least about there employees. I don’t work for the BN but I put in 42 yrs as conductor on what is now the CN. Hunter Harrison our CEO at the time I was working is the very person that started this process. Everyone in the RR industry knows E Hunter Harrison. Its sad the way the RR treats there employees. Wish you all the luck in the world on fighting this. Going to be a very tough road ahead for the employees. Keep up the good fight!

  4. Hi, my name is Chuck Andrews. I worked for BN and later for BNSF for 41 years. I am familiar with the proposed new attendance policy. Judge Mark Pittman ruled that this policy is a minor dispute and the unions involved may not strike to reject it. If this is a minor dispute what could ever be a strike issue? There will be hardworking, well meaning, men and women who will become ill, have preventable accidents, and most likely die because of those accidents. There will be grave dangers to the public because there will be chronically fatigued crew members handling extremely dangerous rail shipments. The human body cannot possibly live up to the expectations set forth. Pittman and the crafters of the insane policy should be required work this schedule for at least one month under close observation by the Federal Railroad Administration to see its real effects.

  5. It’s just not this attendance policy. You have to understand that BNsf has broken long standing agreements with how the rotating pools work. Where you once were on a turn in said pool and could watch it and the line up for trains to be ran to tell when you were going to work they now just eliminate turns where someone is off. This allows the carrier (railroad) to do away with extra board positions to fill those turns. But now if you are 10 times out with four vacancies in front of you they will remove those four turns. But you have to understand that this may happen when you are busy or while you are trying to get rested. So you end up going to work several hours earlier than what you expected. There basically is no way to tell when you are going to work and to be prepared for it once you have had the required time off you must have after duty. I have gone to work after being up for 16 hr. to make a run which will be 12 hr. or more. Finishing in a large city with commuter trains running, dead tired, with the sun in your eyes. The railroad tries to implement behavioral safety so that they can blame accidents on the employee when in fact the root cause is just piss poor management.

  6. buffett is a big democrat,maybe tackle this issue with the “hours of service” just like the trucking industry only allows 70 hrs in 8 days or 60 in 7 I know the rr has similar rules.

    • you would thinki with them dropping turns when they didnt have men to fill them and all the other stuff theyre pulling would be grounds for a strilel im hearing theyre breaking alot of rules and trying to run this new attendance policy all this is a big deal that shouldnt even be being done . i heard they count crews getting 24 hours dead time away from home as a day off. i worked in a crew office way back starting in 1977. we had all the different agreements on train side and engine side the guy calling trainment only had to be familar with the train crew rules. i was told by a trainmaster to let every one lay off that wanted off for christmas so i went and got a line up for the next 12 hours and went back and planned my shift dropped a few turns some guys were getting out 8-12 hours after tying up. a few called and i told em deal. that i was dropping turns to run a railroad because the trainmaster told me to let everyone off. this trainmaster office was sometimes run by the secretary who ordered me to allow a yard runaround.the crews spoke up and i told emt the trainmasters office had told me to do it. because i knew if i didnt do it id be the one in trouble even tho the trainmasters secreatry had no offical power she was as big as 2 people. so the the trainmast was a formr dispatcher and the secretaty was some incredible hulk they fou nd somewhere. and thats what was runnin the railroad. i finall just bid out and spent my days putting ttrain reports into the computer. a nice quiet job where everybody did their own thing

  7. As a retired 34 year Teamster in Seattle and as a retired ATU Union member, I know what it is like to work shifts 14 to 16 hours long. Fatigue is a MAJOR health and safety issue. We need to be regulated to working less hours per week. Minimum of 10 hours off per shift, otherwise we are too tired to operate big equipment of ANY kind.

  8. Just to add to the stealing of our time at home to rest and see our families they often manipulate RSIA the federal rest laws and reset crews in the hotel by one minute or deadhead us home on the sixth start so we don’t meet the criteria for required days off. Often talk to crew members that have had 14-16 starts with no days off.

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