Three Unions File Outsourcing Suit Against BNSF

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
(SMART Photograph)

(SMART Photograph)

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District 19; and International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART-MD) on March 7 reported filing a lawsuit against BNSF in response to its “outsourcing of routine locomotive inspection, maintenance and repair work.” BNSF responds.

The lawsuit (download below) was filed Feb. 24 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri Southwestern Division.

“In early January, BNSF notified IBEW, IAM District 19 and SMART-MD that BNSF lacked the shop capacity and necessary manpower to address its high out-of-service locomotive count, and that it would be outsourcing the routine inspection, maintenance and repair of hundreds of locomotives—work that the members of the three unions have performed for decades,” reported the unions, which collectively represent some 4,800 employees who work in numerous shops across BNSF’s system.

According to the lawsuit, since 2020 BNSF altogether closed or decreased its workforce at numerous maintenance shops—from Alabama to California—and furloughed more than 400 of the maintenance employees represented by the unions. “Many furloughed maintenance employees were not recalled to service for many months even as demand for rail service returned starting in the summer of 2020,” the unions reported in the lawsuit. “When BNSF finally started recalling furloughed employees in late 2021 and early 2022, many declined to return. As mechanical employees declined recall, BNSF did not immediately begin hiring to fill the positions those employees would have held.” The unions noted in the lawsuit that since 2020, the IBEW has seen a net loss of 341 employees it represents; SMART-MD has seen a net loss of 50 employees; and IAM has seen a net loss of approximately 580 employees.

According to the lawsuit, BNSF beginning around September 2021, “also began deferring regularly scheduled maintenance of its locomotives, limiting inspections and repairs to federal items only. In other words, locomotives that were in the shop were only inspected and repaired to meet the minimum standards required by federal law so they could continue to legally operate.”

The unions reported on March 7 that “[u]nder federal labor laws, BNSF has the duty to act in good faith with its employees and the unions that represent them, and to exert every reasonable effort to honor its agreements with those unions. The lawsuit asserts that BNSF has failed to uphold that duty.”

BNSF on March 10 provided the following statement to Railway Age:

“There is an existing arbitration process in place to handle these types of issues. However, allegations questioning our commitment to our culture of safety are simply inaccurate. Our record speaks for itself. BNSF leads the industry in the lowest number of reportable equipment-related incidents in 2021 and 2022 which reflects our longer-term trend of reducing incident over the past several years.”

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