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(OPINION) Railroad employees due raises, better working conditions

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As the cooling off period looms in the not to distant future. I feel that is necessary to introduce a side of the story that might not be heard. A side that is endemic to railroad workers everywhere and a story of the day to day struggles that we endure.

For decades, lifetimes and over a century of never knowing when we would be going to work and even after progressing ideas to alleviate this lifestyle, what did we do? We went to work.

Pre-COVID pandemic when railroads began reducing their workforce under the guise of decreasing business, what did we do? We went to work.

When the COVID virus began to ravage the world, what did we do? We went to work.

When the equipment we were using (especially locomotives) that were traveling from state to state and had two to three crew changes per day occurring, what did we do? We went to work.

When cleaning and sanitization of this equipment basically stopped due to lack of manpower, what did we do? We went to work.

When we were literally begging for cleaning supplies to sanitize this equipment ourselves, what did we do? We went to work.

When we were positioned to spread the COVID virus from state to state, to families friends and others, what did we do? We went to work.

When family, friends, other railroaders, and unknown people began to get extremely sick and sadly die, what did we do? We went to work.

When in the two week period ending Jan. 6, 2022, new COVID-19 cases for railroad employees rose 227% nationwide, what did we do? We went to work.

When in the latter part of 2021 BNSF canceled a decades old employee safety agreement — an agreement that had the largest proportion of legitimacy for a safer workplace — what did we do? We went to work.

When in February 2022 BNSF initiated a new policy, whereas cutting our time off literally in half, what did we do? We went to work.

When it was noted that railroad employees have no risk or had no rewardable contributions towards profitability, what did we do? We went to work.

It was at this time we sadly realized that by going to work during all of the above conditions (and countless others), we were not putting ourselves at risk. It turns out that it was ironically true that by not going to work, the risk of not making record profits was apparent.

We are asking for raises because we are due them. But more than anything we are asking for dignity, respect and concurrently, better working conditions. The Presidential Emergency Board had an opportunity to set these in motion, but failed to do so, thereby allowing these issues a slow death in local handling.

This is why we can not agree with the recommendations of the PEB.

Kevin Knutson

Burlington Northern Santa Fe employee and SMART-TD Local 465 Chairperson

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