A U.S. federal court has temporarily restricted union members from striking against Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) over concerns about the railroad’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic among a category of workers.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska Wednesday sided with Union Pacific’s (UP) petition to prevent members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) from striking against UP. The union had warned last week that it could take action against UP on allegations that the railroad hasn’t done enough to protect workers against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court order restricts BMWED, which is affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, from striking or taking disruptive actions until January 8, 2021. A hearing on UP’s request for a preliminary injunction will be held January 5 on whether to extend that restriction. A preliminary injunction enables the status quo to be preserved until a final judgment is reached.
The union had said previously that it would take action if UP didn’t respond to safety demands by this Sunday. It alleged that hundreds of UP employees contracted COVID-19 at work, with two members dying from the virus. BMWED is asking for full quarantine pay and “common sense COVID-19 safeguards on the job” such as access to testing on the job site, temperature taking and contact tracing.
But the court said BMWED’s proposal to take action or strike isn’t allowable under the Railway Labor Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). The court also said that UP has implemented safety guidelines related to COVID-19.
“Even if the FRSA were to apply to threatened labor stoppages like the one at hand, the Court does not find the statutory requirements would be satisfied,” U.S. District Court Judge Brian C. Buescher said in his ruling. .”First, the COVID-19 pandemic does not present a ‘hazardous safety or security condition related to the performance of the employee’s duties,’”
“The pandemic is not a work-specific safety concern for the BMWED employees under the FRSA. Instead, the pandemic is, unfortunately, a worldwide and widespread problem confronting not just the BMWED employees, but individuals of all walks of life. Thus, it does not constitute a condition “related to the performance of the employee’s duties” for purposes of the FRSA,” the decision added.