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UP files federal suit over unions’ objections to vaccine requirement

(Source: Progressive Railroading 10/18/2021)

Union Pacific Railroad on Oct. 15  filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court after receiving communications from three unions protesting the Class I’s vaccination mandate.

The unions involved are the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD), the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED).

“This action is necessary to prevent any disruption of the national rail network and to avoid any impact on America’s supply chain, as it continues to recover from the pandemic,” UP spokeswoman Robynn Tysver said in an email.

In the lawsuit, UP seeks to have any dispute over the mandate resolved through the various dispute resolution procedures outlined in the Railway Labor Act, she said.

“We continue to work with our employees and their union representatives as we comply with the law. We look forward to the court’s help in that effort,” Tysver added.

UP announced last week that it will comply with the White House’s executive order requiring employees of federal contractors to get vaccinated by Dec. 8.

“As a federal contractor who ships goods supporting our nation’s armed services, Union Pacific is fulfilling this federal requirement,” the Class I announced Oct. 13 on its website. “All employees are required to report their vaccination status or have an approved medical or religious accommodation by the federally mandated deadline.”

In response to UP’s order, SMART-TD and BLET announced Oct. 15 they are jointly challenging UP over what the unions describe as a “series of unilateral and unlawful actions taken by the carrier recently.”

In a joint statement, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce said they “generally support” their members getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“However, we have several objections to UP’s unilateral implementation of their policies mandating them and illegally dealing directly with its represented employees,” Ferguson and Pierce stated.

Employees who aren’t fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 risk being medically disqualified from work, they said.

“We have been in contract negotiations with UP since November of 2019, and federal law absolutely bars railroads from changing rates of pay, rules and working conditions while negotiations are ongoing. Not only is UP in violation of the law, it has explicitly spurned our demands that these matters be bargained,” the labor leaders’ statement said.

BMWED President Freddie Simpson said in a statement posted on that union’s website that he remains opposed to any company requirement that BMWED members get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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