Union threatens to strike over railroad's virus protections

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) - One of Union Pacific's most important unions is threatening a strike if the railroad no longer protects its employees from the corona virus.
The union of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division said the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad must offer full wages to its more than 30,000 employees if they are to be quarantined for exposure to the virus, and that UP the Aims to improve safety precautions in the workplace.
"The working conditions created by UP's COVID-19 protocols have created a workplace that directly threatens the life and health of our members," said Tony Caldwell, union chairman, in a letter to UP management.
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Union Pacific claims it is taking reasonable precautions to protect workers from the virus and has gone to court to block the union's strike as collective bargaining sought to resolve the dispute. The railroad argues that a strike would unjustifiably harm companies that rely on the railways for shipping.
"We have worked hard to keep our employees safe while moving the goods and products our country needs to meet current freight needs and recover from the pandemic," said Elizabeth Graham, Union Pacific spokeswoman . "We have implemented a robust pandemic response to ensure that our employees remain safe and are compensated if they become unemployed due to work-related exposure to the virus."
A federal judge will hear a dispute on Wednesday over whether the union can strike.
The union said that Union Pacific employees quarantined because they were exposed to the virus are not receiving their full wages, and the railroad may not pay employees if they are quarantined multiple times, so one exists Incentive to keep coming to work even if you are sick.
The union, which represents about 8,000 Union Pacific employees, also said the railroad should also regularly offer coronavirus tests in their workplaces, check employees' temperatures before starting work, and do more to ensure social distancing.
Jed Dodd, the union's national vice president, said the group had similar concerns about virus precautions on the other major railways but decided to raise the issue with Union Pacific first.
Union Pacific is one of the largest railways in the country and operates 52,000 kilometers of track in 23 western states.

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