BNSF Modifying ‘Hi-Viz’ Attendance Policy (UPDATED)

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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Since implementing its “Hi-Viz” attendance policy on Feb. 1, BNSF has been monitoring progress and making adjustments, some of which will take effect June 1, according to the Class I railroad. Unions so far are unimpressed.

BNSF in January announced that after 20 years of no changes to its attendance guidelines, it would institute a new system called Hi-Viz, which it said was “designed to provide employees with real-time information and greater flexibility, so they can make informed decisions about their work schedules.”

BNSF explained at that time:

  • With Hi-Viz, an employee starts with 30 “points.” “Point deductions,” which currently range anywhere from 2 to 25 but could change, are based on type of service and the day an “Event” (mark-off) begins. Unavailable time is measured in 24-hour increments. The highest point deductions are assessed for situations like NOS (No Shows) and EMC (Missed Calls). 
  • There are HIDs (“High Impact Days”). For an Unassigned shift, an Event is defined as “occurring on the day of the HID”; an “Unavailable Event” is defined as “prior to the HID, and the employee is not marked up by 0600 on the HID.” For an Assigned shift, it’s when “an employee misses their assigned shift on the HID.”
  • A “Conjunction Penalty” (CP) applies only to Unavailable Events and Events “that immediately (not separated by a work event) precedes or follows a VAC (Layoff Vacation), PLD (Paid Leave Day), UNB (Union Business), SRS, FML (Family Medical Leave Act) or CLD. Employees are charged an additional 2 points for Unassigned Service; an additional 3 points for Assigned Service, except for EMC, LOC (Layoff On Call) and NOS. Unavailable Events include LOS (Sick), LOP (Personal Business), SIF (Sickness in Family), FEM (Family Emergency), LOF (Fatigue), LXU (Failure to Take Notification), LFT (Failure to Tie Up), LOA (Layoff Active Board/Away Terminal or After Start of Shift) and LOD (Layoff Dressed and Ready to Work).
  • There are “Good Attendance Credits.” An employee is awarded a Good Attendance Credit “for any 14-day period they work without an Unavailable Event, NOS, EMC or LOC, and in which they are not otherwise absent from work for any reason, apart from Training/Rules, LET (Engineer Training), LIT (working Lite Duty), Company Business, Military Leave/NGD with supporting LES and/or orders and any type of Rest.” Good Attendance Credits are also given if the employee has “no absences/leave other than those listed in 2.b.ii (E.g. does not have DIF, FML/PFM, FUR, LAM, LOJ, MED, MEV, LOI, HFS, LAB, R79, PLD, SUA/SUT, UNB, VAC, etc.)” or “has no bump board time more than 2 hours after taking notification.”
  • In terms of discipline, “each time an employee exhausts their points (the balance reaches or falls below zero), they are subject to discipline. The point total is reset to 15. The Discipline Progression remains the same: 10-day, 20-day, Dismissal. If an employee remains Hi-Viz-discipline-free for 24 months, then their Hi-Viz progression is reset. Therefore, the next infraction would be a 10-day suspension.”
In a recent video on the BNSF YouTube channel, VP Transportation Matt Garland discussed the Hi-Viz changes starting June 1.

Changes Ahead

BNSF now plans changes to Hi-Viz. In a recent video on the BNSF YouTube channel, VP Transportation Matt Garland discussed them. He first thanked employees by saying, “I know we’ve had a tough start to the year, and I know we’re all feeling that. We all have a lot on our minds, and I appreciate all that you’re working through, and so do our customers.” He explained that over the past three months, “many employees raised concerns” about Hi-Viz details. “We heard you,” Garland said. “We’ve especially heard your concerns about the initial conjunction penalty associated with vacation and personal days. We’ve also heard a lot of thoughtful suggestions about ‘good performers’ having the ability to earn bonus points and the possibility of being able to bank more than 30 points. So considering your input and what we’ve learned … we’re going to make a few changes to the current Hi-Viz program.” As of June 1:

• The conjunction penalty for layoffs prior to vacation and/or PLDs will be eliminated.
• There will be several new ways to earn back points: BNSF will award 7 points for each top performer each month; top performers will be defined by the top 10% of hours worked compared to their peers at the board/station level. The railroad will also award 1 point for those available to work the 24-hour period before and the 24-hour period after a scheduled week of vacation; 1 point for those who have a start on a HID; and 1 point for those who have a start between 1200 hours Friday and 1200 hours Sunday.

“How does this help good performers when they are already at a cap of 30 points?” Garland asked. “We heard that message, too,” he said. “So, if you have a balance of 30 points, when you earn any of these recognition points, you’ll be able to bank up to a maximum balance of 37 points.” He concluded by saying, “Remember, we designed Hi-Viz with points for a reason—to use when needed. Although you’ll still have opportunities to schedule time off, and we encourage that, we also understand there are times when you need to deal with stuff like life. Aside from using available rest days and the rest required by law, it’s important to take time for yourselves and use points when needed.”

Union Reaction

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) National President Dennis Pierce

In a May 16 statement, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) National President Dennis Pierce called the changes “little more than fluff. Hi-Viz has been an abject failure. This unreasonable policy, which keeps locomotive engineers and other railroaders on call day after day, around the clock, has caused hundreds of BNSF’s employees to quit and it has made recruitment of new employees a nightmare.”

He went on to say “[t]he sad fact is that the nation’s supply chain challenges are partially due to a 29% cut in rail labor at the Class I railroads over the past six years. The Hi-Viz attendance policy exacerbates the breakdown in the supply chain and drives more railroaders away at a time of critical need. Not only is the supply chain failing, but this abusive and punitive attendance policy is breaking apart families and causing locomotive engineers and other railroaders to come to work dangerously fatigued.

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Greg Regan

“Enough with the fluff. It’s time for BNSF as well as other railroads with similar attendance policies to sit down with their unions and negotiate staffing policies that work for the railroads, their customers and their employees.”

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Greg Regan told the Associated Press on May 16 that “BNSF’s proposed changes to its Hi-Viz attendance policy are unimpressive. These changes do nothing to address the policy’s fundamental flaws.” The modifications, he told the AP, “don’t change the overall effect of the policy because earning an extra point or two won’t offset provisions like the 15-point deduction for being unable to work on a holiday.”

BNSF Responds

When asked about the attendance policy changes, BNSF on May 16 submitted the following statement to Railway Age:

“As you are aware, BNSF implemented an attendance policy in February, known as HiViz, designed to improve the consistency of crews being available for their shifts to run trains which in turn drives service consistency and reliability for our customers while also improving predictability and transparency for our crews around when they will go to work.

“As with any change, it’s important to monitor progress and adjust as needed. To that end, BNSF leadership made several changes just a month after the initial rollout and promised an additional review after 90 days.

“That review has now been completed and while the program is working as intended, BNSF has gathered feedback from employees, many of whom shared thoughtful ideas and suggestions. Considering that input, BNSF will make additional modifications to the program effective June 1 to provide additional clarity and flexibility to employees.

“It is important to note that there has been no change in how much time off an employee receives. More than 50% of train crew employees work less than 40 hours a week on average. Generally, train crew employees have over 3 to 4 weeks of paid vacation and over 10 Personal Leave Days. The number of Personal Leave Days was increased by 25% this year which makes it easier for employees to take time off.

“In fact, since starting HiViz, we have seen more planned vacation days taken than before the change. In addition, employees can’t work more than 6 days in a row under federal law. Time off between each shift averages around 24 hours and since the attendance policy was implemented, we have seen that increase.

“We currently have more train crew employees today than we did a year ago, coupled with a robust 2022 hiring plan that already has 300 new employees currently being trained.

“Class I freight railroads are currently in collective bargaining process and BNSF remains committed and eager to work toward a swift and fair resolution to the collective bargaining process. In anticipation of an agreement, BNSF continues to set aside funds for pay raises. The sooner an agreement is reached, the sooner our union-represented employees get pay increases and we can all focus on what we do best—running one of the largest freight rail networks in the world.

“BNSF team members drive our success and we couldn’t deliver the nation’s goods without them. We are committed to adapting together to meet today’s competitive freight environment.”

In related developments, the National Mediation Board has agreed to give the nation’s 12 railroad labor unions, representing some 125,000 unionized rail workers, an opportunity May 24-26 to demonstrate their commitment to a voluntarily negotiated settlement with most of the nation’s railroads over changes in wages, benefits and work rules.

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