Union sues BNSF over contract on short line

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Posted: Saturday, August 24, 2013 12:00 am

A labor union representing railroad workers has sued BNSF Railway, saying the unit of Omaha's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is violating a collective bargaining agreement covering a handful of employees on a Nebraska short line.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees filed the suit last week in U.S. District Court in Omaha.

The suit says BNSF is not honoring the union contract on a Nebraska short rail line that runs from Iowa Ferry, near South Sioux City, to O'Neill, about 100 miles away. Such lines typically employ fewer than a couple of dozen workers. BNSF has 40,000 employees.

BNSF is the nation's second-largest railroad, behind Omaha-based Union Pacific. The suit says BNSF acquired the Iowa Ferry operation last year from Nebraska Northeastern Railway, after having owned it until 1996.

The maintenance of way workers were part of the union contract before the line was sold to Nebraska Northeastern, the suit says, and should be covered now.

Instead, the suit says, BNSF intends to operate the rail line “as is,” or under pay rates and work schedules it decrees.

The union says that violates federal law, as the line should be subject to the collective bargaining agreement applying to the rest of BNSF's operations, and to the line before it was sold.

“The collective bargaining agreement applies to this line,” said Richard Edelman, a union attorney for the Washington firm O'Donnell, Schwartz & Anderson. “They are flat-out ignoring it and that is a repudiation of the agreement.”

BNSF said that the line employs fewer than 20 workers and that there “is no basis for interfering” with the rail-line operations.

The federal Surface Transportation Board, the company said in a statement, ruled the rail line can function as a stand-alone operation.

“We have always been willing to recognize the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees as the union representing our maintenance of way employees,” BNSF said.

“To date, however, negotiations over work rules on the Nebraska Northeastern line have proved unsuccessful. But BNSF stands ready to continue negotiations.”

The suit asks for a court declaration that BNSF's actions are improper, and other unspecified relief.

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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