January 15, 2008

CHICAGO (Jan. 14)—A Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) investigation has confirmed a September 2007 UTU complaint that Burlington Northern Santa Fe supervisors violated federal law when they allowed yard-service employees to perform functions of a utility man / road crew and then ordered them to return to their yard assignments.

In a December 31 letter to UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, FRA reported that the practice, known as “attaching,” is illegal if the so-called “utility employee” is returned to his yard duties after finishing his work with a road crew.

“Concurrent service,” or rotating an employee back and forth from yard work to road work during the same shift, is a violation Part 218.22 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, wrote FRA Region IV Administrator Laurence H. Hasvold.

Local # 1494 Chairman John Lynch told “Hot Topics” he saw BNSF supervisors at the carrier’s Corwith Yard intermodal ramp order members of yard crews to “attach” themselves temporarily to road train crews so they could attach, test and arm the electronic End of Train (EOT) warning device.

But instead of letting such employees mark off when finished with their EOT duties, the supervisors sent them back to their switching assignments.

Lynch said he was suspicious about BNSF’s practice and complained about it to supervisors. Each time he complained, he said, the supervisors tried to assure him the carrier was in compliance.

Still suspicious, Lynch brought up the matter with the FRA and the UTU.

“In February 2007 I attended an FRA seminar at our General Committee Reorganization meeting in Kansas City,” Lynch said. “I raised the Utility Man issue with the FRA officials and with James A. Stem Jr., the UTU’s alternate national legislative director. They confirmed these actions were a violation of the federal regulation. We told the railroad they were doing it wrong, but they still didn’t believe us. I then reported about five random incidents to Joe Szabo, and he wrote them up and forwarded the information to the FRA.”

Hasvold said interviews with BNSF supervisors and employees confirmed that the practice has been discontinued. He said the FRA would not request the carrier be fined for the violations.

“The FRA’s findings in this case reflect once again that our union gets results when members report practices which appear to be a violation of federal law or which appear to be unsafe,” Szabo said. “If you think regulations or safety rules are being violated, write down what you observe, then notify your local chairman or legislative rep. We’ll follow it up, and if it proves to be a violation, the FRA will act.”