Monday, November 29, 2021

Railways fight unions in court over vaccination demands

OMAHA, Nebraska (AP). Another major railroad has gone to court to determine if it has the right to require all of its employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

On Sunday, the BNSF railway filed a lawsuit against its main unions over its mandate. It joins Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific, which filed similar lawsuits against unions last month. Unions, which have responded with some of their lawsuits, argue that the railways should have negotiated with them before imposing their mandates.

The railways, which have imposed vaccination requirements, say they are complying with President Joe Biden’s decree requiring all federal contractors to vaccinate their employees. Railways are not alone in facing resistance to vaccination demands. These rules have sparked controversy in a wide variety of workplaces.

The BNSF said in its lawsuit that it regularly updates its worker requirements when federal regulations change, so vaccine requirements should not be different. The BNSF said the unions are not contesting when it changes drug testing rules, and they did not fight it earlier this year when the railroad banned the use of masks after the Federal Railroad Administration ordered it.

“BNSF has a long and well-established practice of unilaterally changing its rules and policies governing job requirements, medical standards and safety, in response to legal directives from the federal government,” the company said in its lawsuit.

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The railways said employees will be punished if they fail to comply with vaccination regulations.

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Unions didn’t immediately respond in court to the BNSF’s lawsuit on Monday, but in other lawsuits they argued that the railways were in breach of their contract by demanding vaccines and offering bonuses to workers if they did get vaccinated. Both Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern offer their employees $ 300 for vaccinations.

“Non-negotiated bonuses and a unilateral decision to punish unvaccinated employees undermined collective bargaining agreements and reduced Norfolk Southern’s commitments under these agreements.” – Sheet Metal, Air, Railroad and Transportation Workers – Transportation or SMART – TD, the union said in its response to Norfolk Southern.

Union leaders SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotives and Trainers said they generally support vaccination of workers, but do not think the railways should demand it without prior negotiations.

Federal judges have yet to rule on any of these claims related to railways’ vaccine claims.

BNSF, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific are the three largest railways in the United States. A spokeswoman for the fourth-largest U.S. railroad, CSX, said officials are still weighing whether to introduce a vaccination mandate in response to a government order, but they are encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

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