Reported by Marybeth Luczak for Railway Age.
BNSF now plans changes to Hi-Viz. In a recent video on the BNSF YouTube channel, VP Transportation Matt Garland discussed them. He first thanked employees by saying, “I know we’ve had a tough start to the year, and I know we’re all feeling that. We all have a lot on our minds, and I appreciate all that you’re working through, and so do our customers.” He explained that over the past three months, “many employees raised concerns” about Hi-Viz details. “We heard you,” Garland said. “We’ve especially heard your concerns about the initial conjunction penalty associated with vacation and personal days. We’ve also heard a lot of thoughtful suggestions about ‘good performers’ having the ability to earn bonus points and the possibility of being able to bank more than 30 points. So considering your input and what we’ve learned … we’re going to make a few changes to the current Hi-Viz program.” As of June 1:
• The conjunction penalty for layoffs prior to vacation and/or PLDs will be eliminated.
• There will be several new ways to earn back points: BNSF will award 7 points for each top performer each month; top performers will be defined by the top 10% of hours worked compared to their peers at the board/station level. The railroad will also award 1 point for those available to work the 24-hour period before and the 24-hour period after a scheduled week of vacation; 1 point for those who have a start on a HID; and 1 point for those who have a start between 1200 hours Friday and 1200 hours Sunday.
“How does this help good performers when they are already at a cap of 30 points?” Garland asked. “We heard that message, too,” he said. “So, if you have a balance of 30 points, when you earn any of these recognition points, you’ll be able to bank up to a maximum balance of 37 points.” He concluded by saying, “Remember, we designed Hi-Viz with points for a reason—to use when needed. Although you’ll still have opportunities to schedule time off, and we encourage that, we also understand there are times when you need to deal with stuff like life. Aside from using available rest days and the rest required by law, it’s important to take time for yourselves and use points when needed.”
In a May 16 statement, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) National President Dennis Pierce called the changes “little more than fluff. Hi-Viz has been an abject failure. This unreasonable policy, which keeps locomotive engineers and other railroaders on call day after day, around the clock, has caused hundreds of BNSF’s employees to quit and it has made recruitment of new employees a nightmare.”
He went on to say “[t]he sad fact is that the nation’s supply chain challenges are partially due to a 29% cut in rail labor at the Class I railroads over the past six years. The Hi-Viz attendance policy exacerbates the breakdown in the supply chain and drives more railroaders away at a time of critical need. Not only is the supply chain failing, but this abusive and punitive attendance policy is breaking apart families and causing locomotive engineers and other railroaders to come to work dangerously fatigued.
“Enough with the fluff. It’s time for BNSF as well as other railroads with similar attendance policies to sit down with their unions and negotiate staffing policies that work for the railroads, their customers and their employees.”
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO President Greg Regan told the Associated Press on May 16 that “BNSF’s proposed changes to its Hi-Viz attendance policy are unimpressive. These changes do nothing to address the policy’s fundamental flaws.” The modifications, he told the AP, “don’t change the overall effect of the policy because earning an extra point or two won’t offset provisions like the 15-point deduction for being unable to work on a holiday.”
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