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BNSF Rail Worker Unions Ordered to Stop Strike Activities

Some 17,000 BNSF Railway Co. workers were blocked in court from a possible strike that could have further strained an already overwhelmed supply chain.

A Texas Federal court judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of BNSF Railway, which took two unions to court to block the possibility of a strike stemming from criticism over the railroad operator’s new worker attendance policy.

BNSF’s request for a temporary restraining order ends the possibility, for now, of a work stoppage that would have included more than half of the railroad operator’s worker base. The strike could have happened as early as this week.

District Court Judge Mark T. Pittman, in his decision, acknowledged the country’s supply chain challenges, writing “a strike would exacerbate our current supply chain crisis—harming the public at large, not just BNSF.”

The temporary restraining order is set to expire Feb. 8.

BNSF’s new attendance policy, called High Visibility, is at the center of the dispute and goes into effect Feb. 1.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) took issue with the policy.

The two groups argued the new system goes against the existing worker contract language, while BNSF said the new points-based policy makes it easier for employees to track missed days of work and potential disciplinary action.

The unions say the issue should be considered “major” under the Railway Labor Act, which would allow for a worker strike. BNSF’s contention is the issue is a “minor” one that must be sent to mediation under federal law.

Tuesday’s decision does not rule on how the dispute should be classified under the law and largely serves as an emergency lever to ban any near-term work stoppage.

The BNSF Rail matter is just one example of worker unrest within the transportation sector.

Railroad operators and worker unions have been in talks for more than two years to work out a new contract, but those discussions recently went south, prompting the unions on Monday to ask a federal mediator to step in.

The Coordinated Bargaining Coalition represents 10 worker unions and more than 80% of workers in the negotiations with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, which represents the railroads.