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After Court Setback, Unions Turn to Arbitration in BNSF Employee Attendance Dispute

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

BNSF Railway Company’s dispute with its two largest unions will head to arbitration to resolve a conflict over BNSF’s new attendance policy.

The unions, BLET (Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen) and the SMART Transportation Division, represent 17,000 BNSF workers and were prevented from striking by a court decision.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Pittman ruled on February 22, 2022, that the unions’ dispute over the policy constituted a “minor dispute” under the terms and conditions of the Railway Labor Act.

In a joint statement issued by the two unions, they said that “The court’s use of ‘minor’ does not signify the importance of the issue, but is only a legal term which provides that resolution of the matter must be by arbitration. In considering a potential appeal of the District Court’s ruling, it was determined that an appeal could take another one to two years, and likely not result in a different decision. An appeal would not be the quickest, or most effective way, to stop the BNSF policy. The quickest and most direct way to challenge this policy is through a Public Law Board or Special Board of Adjustment, properly constituted under Section 3 of the Railway Labor Act. That board will have the authority to strike down either the entire policy or the most egregious parts of the policy much more quickly. The time frame will be months as opposed to years.”

BNSF’s unions maintain that the BNSF Hi-Viz attendance policy is “forcing its employees to work even when they or their families are sick, and when they are fatigued beyond the point of being able to work safely.”

© 2022 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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