August 18, 2004

CHICAGO (Aug. 18)—The magic words “employment opportunities” went out to a lagging and nervous job market today as the two Class I carriers connecting Chicago with the West Coast announced an intensified effort to recruit new personnel.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway said it will hold a Chicago Job Fair Friday and Saturday, August 27-28, at the Hyatt Regency Oak Brook Hotel and is seeking applicants for virtually every employment category.

Careers open on BNSF include conductor, locomotive engineer, electrician, machinist, welder, suburban operations (Metra), maintenance of way, communications and signals, railroad police, intermodal operations and managerial positions.

At the same time, BNSF’s competitor Union Pacific sent out its own Internet recruiting notice, which appeared to seek primarily train conductors. No mention of mechanical, electrical or maintenance-of-way people was made. Nor did UP schedule a job fair. Interested job-seekers were advised to go directly to the carrier’s Web site,

“These announcements are not a surprise,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Both carriers have been overwhelmed with new freight traffic for which they were not prepared, and both have been hit hard with early retirements that drastically reduced their ranks of experienced personnel, especially those in train service.”

BNSF was so eager to hire that Assistant Vice President for Government & Public Policy Paul E. Nowicki sent Szabo a personal letter asking for the union’s assistance in spreading the word.

“We currently have about 50 positions open in Chicago, ranging from conductors to locomotive engineers to electricians, machinists, coach cleaners, crane operators, and railroad police,” Nowicki wrote. “Have your members send their friends and relatives…Come one, come all!”

Szabo tempered that rallying cry, however, noting that not everyone who needs a job is suited for railroad work.

“I can understand Paul’s enthusiasm,” Szabo said. “His company is not only hiring, but offering good jobs with strong benefits and wages of up to $60,000 per year. Not many American companies are able to do that right now.

“Nevertheless, as our members can well attest, railroad jobs can offer a high standard of living with a relatively low quality of life,” Szabo said. “Particularly for train crews, hours can be both long and irregular, much of the work is performed out of doors in inclement weather, employees are subject to an archaic disciplinary system, and much of the work is characterized by a hurry-up-and-wait tempo that many people just cannot adjust to.”

Szabo said that rather than round up their friends and relatives indiscriminately and send all of them to apply for railroad jobs, railroaders should use their experience and judgment to recruit only those who have a temperament suited to the stresses of railroad work.

“There’s no better ‘screener’ than our own members,” he said. “Most of them have a pretty good feel for who’s really qualified to run trains and who’s not. I’m hoping they will choose carefully when they direct somebody to apply for a railroad job.”

The BNSF Job Fair will run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday (8/27) and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (8/28). The Hyatt Regency Oak Brook is located at 1909 Spring Road in the suburb. BNSF said it will have personal-computer terminals installed at the site so applicants can submit their “paperwork” on the spot.

Union Pacific said that in addition to its Web site, job-seekers may call the company’s Employment Hotline at (800) 877-5634.

“This is a great opportunity for many people seeking a higher income, greater security and the protection of a strong labor union,” Szabo said. “I would encourage UTU members to contact friends and relatives who are suited to railroad work and urge them to apply.”