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Federal judge blocks BNSF workers from striking over new attendance policy

Local BNSF workers are preparing for new attendance policy changes to take effect on Feb. 1 they said would dramatically change their lifestyles.

SPOKANE, Wash. — After Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Corporation announced to workers it would be making changes to how employees would take time off, workers threatened to strike.

On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked that action, forcing BNSF workers to adjust to the new policy changes.

Those changes include a Hi-Viz policy which introduces a point system for taking days off. Each worker will be given 30 points and then when days are taken off, points are deducted.

According to local BNSF workers, weekend days are four points, week days are two points and holidays and "high impact days" can be considered extra points.

It can sound like simple math, but when it comes to also factoring in 30-45 hour shifts in between trying to take days off, workers said the points add up.

"I got to save up two, three months to go to an anniversary on Friday night, never mind a doctor's appointment, never mind just taking my family to spend the night in Coeur d'Alene," BNSF conductor Jordan Kruger said.

Workers said the new policy limits their ability to live their lives and affects more than just themselves.

"I have to explain to my kids, 'Daddy can't come to your soccer game this weekend because Daddy had a doctor's appointment last weekend'," BNSF locomotive engineer Shawn Blackburn said. "Like how do you explain that to a kid?"

Kruger and Blackburn expressed how they both had conversations with their wives about what changes the new policy will bring their home lives.

"Any time I would come home and complain about my job, my wife would always remind me to be grateful for the work," Kruger said. "Now it's the other way around and I'm having to remind her to be grateful."

"I had to go to my family and say, 'our lifestyle is about to change, drastically'." Blackburn said.

Blackburn said they were notified of the change through a pop-up on their work computer screen. They said local management hadn't spoken to them directly about the changes.

Krueger said the new policy could pose a detrimental effect on an already low-moral workplace.

"In my opinion, this policy is not safe. It's not safe for the worker, I don't think it's safe for the railroad and I don't think it's safe for the public," Kruger said. "We got 15,000 tons of hazmat going through your town and you got guys who are stressed out, sleep deprived and whatever time they do have to rest, they're connecting with their families or talking on the phones with their wives."

BNSF media relations shared this quote with KREM on the new policy:

"We are pleased that yesterday's ruling allows us to move forward working together with our employees to do what we do best in providing service that is essential to our customers and the American economy. BNSF's new system will provide more predictability for our train crews while also providing more reliable crew availability, which is essential to meeting our customers' expectations and the demands posed by an increasingly competitive global supply chain. Our program is designed to provide ample time for obligations outside of work, including planned vacations, personal leave days and unplanned absences while ensuring that we have sufficient employees available to work. We continue to take employee feedback on the program and that feedback is being reviewed. BNSF team members drive our success and we couldn't deliver the nation's goods without them. We understand that change can be an adjustment, but working together with our employees, we believe we can adapt to meet today's competitive freight environment."

"The railroad will, in a sense, I don't want to strong language, but they will own us," Kruger said.

The Hi-Viz policy will go into effect Feb. 1 for BNSF employees.

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