Student opinion: Overworked conductors, engineers bring safety concerns

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Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, trains transport goods of all kinds all across our country. Lots of times overlooked on these trains are a conductor and engineer who keep the train running smoothly and prevent potentially catastrophic accidents.

These conductors and engineers work difficult schedules that could potentially keep them up all night and away from home for days, affecting not only the workers but also their family members. 

Currently, these men and women have to be available to work at a moment’s notice 75 percent of every month. One major rail company, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, is feeling the pressure of handling supply shortages across the country and is now asking the employees to raise the amount of time from 75 to 90-95 percent of the time. This means that the workers would have to be available to work almost all of the time along with the other life responsibilities they have. 

To ensure that they keep themselves available to work, the BNSF employees run on a point system. They each get thirty points to start out when they join the job. Each time they are unavailable to work when called, they are docked points. If they get to zero points one time, they get a warning, and if it happens, again they are fired.

In order to rebuild points, employees would have to be available to work fourteen consecutive days. This becomes a difficult task to complete because time has to be taken off for appointments, illnesses, family duties and any other non-work-related activities. The ability to rebuild those points is an especially difficult process for those who suffer from work-related illnesses such as sleep disorders. 

Many of the employees are often having to make the hard decision of taking time off for sickness or risking getting their co-workers sick. With all the illnesses that have been spreading, it would be right to take the time off, but their job makes it so they are put in a bad situation or unable to because of loss of points. 

Health and amount of sleep for these employees have a big impact on the safety of the communities these trains travel through. Many of the trains that run behind Yutan High School carry oil and fuel. If an engineer or conductor were to fall asleep and collide with another train or object, there is a good chance of explosion.

Because of these new working conditions, the BNSF employees asked to strike because they feel that the changes to their work schedule could harm both the employees and the public, but the Railway Labor Act prevented the strike from happening. 

This act, originally known as the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, restricts the activities of labor unions. There is a process that the union and the company will go through together to try to come to a solution called arbitration, but it will take time. 

Meanwhile, the BNSF employees are looking for ways to educate the public about these safety concerns. The employees are just trying their hardest to keep themselves and the communities as safe as possible. 

At this point, word of mouth seems to be the best way to educate the public about this situation that affects many families in our community who have a member employed at BNSF, as well as those who live close to potentially dangerous train tracks. Hopefully, if enough pressure is put on the BNSF, they will reconsider their employees’ working conditions, keeping everyone safer.