OMAHA, Neb. – Roughly 7,500 BNSF train engineers may soon get up to eight days of paid sick time and more certainty about their days off if they approve a new deal with the railroad announced Tuesday.
BNSF and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union said engineers will get more predictable schedules and the ability to take sick time off without being penalized under the Fort Worth-Texas based railroad's strict attendance policy.
The major freight railroads have made a great deal of progress on the sick time issue since workers' quality of life concerns pushed the industry to the brink of a strike last year before Congress forced the unions to accept a contract. More than 77% of all those workers have now been promised sick time. The railroads refused to add sick time to last year's deal that included 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses.
BNSF engineers will get five days of paid sick leave and be permitted to convert three other leave days into sick time each year. That's better than most other deals rail workers have made that provide for up to seven days of sick time through a combination of paid days and existing leave days. In all these deals, railroads promised to pay workers for any unused sick time at the end of each year.
In addition to sick time, this agreement will establish a scheduling model across BNSF that will help engineers predict when they will be scheduled to be off. The details may vary somewhat across the railroad, but BNSF generally promised to try to give engineers three days off after they work six days in a row.
The deal also includes a number of smaller changes in the complicated rules that determine when engineers have to report to work that the railroad and union said would “bring positive changes to both the professional and personal lives of locomotive engineers.”
Engineers will also be able to earn four additional paid days off a year for every quarter they work without taking an unplanned unpaid day off from work.
After this agreement, the engineers union now has deals to improve schedules with all the major freight railroads, including BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Kansas City. But it still lacks sick time deals with CSX and both Canadian railroads.
Norfolk Southern and UP are the only railroads so far to announce sick time deals with all their unions. But BNSF said it now has deals with all but one of its unions after this agreement.
BNSF spokesperson Kendall Kirkham Sloan said the railroad is glad it has reached these deals “to help BNSF modernize its agreements to the benefit of its employees and their members. BNSF remains committed to continued dialogue, for those few remaining crafts that do not already have them.”
BNSF is one of the nation's largest railroads, with about 32,500 miles of track in the west. It's owned by Warren Buffett's Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate.