BMWE rail workers protest in Omaha, demand sick pay

By Joe Swanson
April 10, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. — Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees union continue to organize protests at railroad bosses’ headquarters demanding paid sick days.

On March 24, nearly 100 BMWE members and other union supporters — from American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 251, Teamsters Local 554 and SMART-Transportation Division — rallied in front of the Berkshire-Hathaway headquarters here. It’s a multinational holding company owned by Warren Buffet, which runs the BNSF railroad.

For almost three hours workers marched behind a giant balloon rat holding a balloon track worker. They carried signs saying, “People over profits,” “Stop war on workers,” and “End precision scheduling railroading, a profit-making scheme!” They chanted, “Corporate greed has got to go,” “Enough is enough,” and “No justice, no peace.”

Many of the protesters were attending a two-day educational conference organized by the BMWE.

Buffett has set an example for all rail bosses, imposing a harsh new point-based attendance policy. It forces workers to be continuously on call and show up for work regardless of their health, family needs or anything else, or face harsh penalties up to losing their jobs.

Most of the railroad workers at the rally work for BNSF, with a few from the Canadian Pacific.

“The management of the BNSF have 80 hours of paid sick days,” George Loveland, general chair of the BMWE, told the rally. “We have zero hours. This should be embarrassing to Buffet, whose wealth is over a hundred billion dollars and BNSF’s net income was nearly $6 billion in 2022.”

The other Class 1 railroad in Nebraska, the Union Pacific, has reached agreements with nine of the rail unions, including the BMWE, to provide workers up to seven paid sick days.

Many workers were discussing the situation facing working people in East Palestine, Ohio, since the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern derailment and release of toxic chemicals.

“Our union leadership has encouraged labor to aid the people of that community, and it has spoken out against Norfolk Southern not providing protective clothing to its members ordered to do cleanup and repair of the trackage,” Loveland told the Militant. “A number have become seriously ill.”