OMAHA, Neb. -- A federal judge has extended an order preventing the two largest unions at BNSF from going on strike over a new attendance policy the railroad imposed this month.
The judge ruled that a strike by the unions that represent 17,000 BNSF workers would violate federal law because the issue is a minor dispute under their contracts.
The unions argued that the new rules that took effect Feb. 1 discourage workers from taking sick me during the pandemic and penalize employees for missing work for any reason. But the judge's ruling Tuesday means they will have to address their concerns through arbitration or negotiation.
Judge Mark Pittman said a strike would arguably hurt "every single American” because of the damage it could do to the economy and all the businesses that rely on BNSF to deliver their products.
The presidents of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation unions said in a joint statement that they were “infuriated” by the ruling and will consider appealing it.
BNSF, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, said employees will still be able to take time off for vacations and deal with obligations outside of work under the new rules, which will help ensure it has enough employees available to run its trains.
The railroad said the ruling will help it serve its customers and deliver the nation's goods.
BNSF is one of the largest railroads in the United States, and it operates 32,500 miles (52,300 kilometers) of track in 28 western states.