March 1, 2024

Mass furloughs reported at BNSF Railway operations in 4 states


BNSF Railway, one of the largest freight railroads in the U.S., has reportedly furloughed hundreds of employees in Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and Texas.

The furloughs were announced Tuesday, with 362 workers reportedly losing their jobs, according to the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) with the AFL-CIO, the union representing the workers.

“BNSF Railway callously announced it has furloughed over 362 mechanical department positions at numerous locations across their system,” Greg Regan, president of the TTD AFL-CIO, said in a letter obtained by FreightWaves. “BNSF has said that the slashing of these positions was necessary to realign with their business operations and to respond to business decline.”

Workers at BNSF terminals were reportedly furloughed at rail terminals in Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and Texas, according to posts on social media. While TTD AFL-CIO said the furloughs were in the mechanical department, social media posts indicated positions such as clerks, carmen, pipe fitters and laborers were also affected.

Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF, whose total revenue in 2023 declined 8% year over year to $23.8 billion, said it is offering transfers and retraining for affected workers.

BNSF representatives issued a statement to FreightWaves about the furloughs:

“While the underlying economy currently lacks clarity, BNSF is pursuing and capturing growth in several areas. We have an imbalance of employees where growth is occurring among some of our mechanical work groups.

“We have team members in locations on the network where there isn’t sufficient work and simultaneously not enough team members where the growth is occurring. Work groups must be readjusted to ensure we have the right people in the right place at the right time to best serve our customers’ current transportation needs and be positioned for future growth.

“BNSF has offered location transfers with incentives targeted to those locations where there are open positions. BNSF has also offered craft transfers for mechanical employees to be retrained for other open positions on the BNSF network. There are currently several hundred open mechanical and engineering positions on our network. Our hope is that we can reallocate personnel through these incentive programs, so BNSF continues to grow with our customers.”

Regan said BNSF has notified the union that 150 mechanical jobs will be made available across the country for furloughed workers to reapply but could require workers to relocate and accept lower pay.

“If mechanical employees were to switch crafts they would be forfeiting their established seniority … by transferring to new locations, different mechanical crafts or the maintenance of way department positions,” Regan said. “They would be effectively starting their railroad careers over, as seniority is the cornerstone of work opportunities within the railroad industry.”

In the wake of the furloughs, the TTD AFL-CIO demanded immediate federal inspections of BNSF locomotives and rail cars.

“We urge the Federal Railroad Administration to immediately conduct unannounced focused inspections of all BNSF owned and leased locomotives and rail cars … and further issue non-compliance orders requiring BNSF to repair any defects before being permitted to utilize their locomotives and rail cars,” Regan wrote. “We have long-held concerns about numerous defects that are intentionally being ignored and neglected by BNSF because managers … are under pressure to perform work with an inadequate number of workers. These problems will only be exacerbated by the extreme mechanical department cuts that were carried out by BNSF.”

BNSF has over 40,000 employees and operates 32,500 miles of rail across the U.S.

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