AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – After a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was issued in the ongoing court battle between BNSF Railway and its staff, members of the employee unions were warned not to move ahead with strikes responding to a new company attendance policy.

The SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) have been standing against BNSF in court after the company announced a points-based “Hi-Viz” attendance standard would begin on Feb. 1, 2022.

The unions claimed that the new attendance policy would punish workers for taking time off for any reason, including sickness (even with COVID-19), family funerals, or local union officials taking time off to represent workers at disciplinary hearings.

Under the new policy, engineers and conductors begin with 30 points, and then points are deducted from that for absences, with the deductions ranging from two points to 25 points. A worker can earn four points back by being available to work for 14 days in a row including weekends. An employee would be disciplined when their points are exhausted.

However, the policy itself and other ongoing negotiation conflicts were not what a federal judge ruled upon on Tuesday. The argument at hand was whether or not the dispute between BNSF and the unions could be considered “major” or “minor”, with a “major” dispute legally allowing the unions to strike and take on other measures of protest against the company.

While the distinction of “major” or “minor” remained undecided, Judge Mark Pittman ruled that the unions going on strike would hurt BNSF and exacerbate nationwide supply chain issues that have been a source of struggle for months. With that in mind, Pittman issued the TRO and banned the unions from authorizing or encouraging any strikes, work stoppages, slowdown, or “self-help” measures employees may consider using to protest.

The ruling led to SMART-TD to issue an urgent notice to all BNSF employees that it represents, instructing “all members who are now or who may in the future engage in any strike, work stoppages, picketing, slowdowns, sickouts, or any other activity intended to disrupt the operations of the railroad to immediately cease and desist all such activity and to immediately cease and desist all exhortations or communications
encouraging same upon pain of fine, suspension, or other sanction by SMART-TD.”

“This means that any member who continues to encourage other employees on social media, or in any other forum, to engage in a strike, work stoppages, picketing, slowdowns, sickouts, or any other activity intended to disrupt the operations of the railroad MUST immediately stop doing so,” continued SMART-TD’s announcement, “Members who continue to do so risk fine, suspension, or other sanction by SMART-TD.”

The notice was posted to the union website as part of the court order. However, despite the TRO, the union also said that it would continue to challenge the “Hi-Viz” policy in court and will see to have the order lifted.

This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.