BNSF on track for changes

By Jack King

Burlington Northern Santa Fe is eliminating a crew change in Clovis for some of its trains, although it’s not yet clear what the change will mean for Clovis.
Also, BNSF has lost a labor dispute, which will mean more high-paying union jobs at its Clovis yard — but how many of those jobs will go to Clovis residents also isn’t clear, officials said.
The railroad company served official notice in November it will move a crew insertion point from Clovis to Amarillo for about 10 percent — between eight and 10 — of the 100 trains that run between Amarillo and Belen, N.M. The change should have no effect on Clovis, said BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent.
A “crew insertion point” is the point on a train route where the train is stopped and crews are changed.
Kent said the railroad has not yet identified which of its trains will be affected by the change. She said the action is being taken “to reduce transit time by eliminating a crew change.”
Jim Huston, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, said a meeting between the unions potentially affected by the change and BNSF has been set for Dec. 4. At that meeting the parties will discuss details of the change. He said until BNSF tells which and how many trains will be affected, discussing how many workers and their families will be affected is premature.
“One could speculate that their faster, high-priority service is what would be affected,” he said.
On another front, Danny L. Lancaster, vice general chairman for the Transportation-Communications International Union, Carmen Division, said the National Mediation Board found against BNSF Oct. 18 in a dispute over hiring carmen to work at its expanded Clovis railroad yard.
The board’s decision means BNSF will not be able to hire workers at the yard through non-union contractors and the yard will be a closed shop, he said.
Progress Rail, the Albertville, Ala.-based company that contracted to provide 35 employees to clean and inspect cars in the Clovis yard, will not be providing those jobs, he said.
“Had the company won, you would have had 35 contract employees working at a maximum of $12 an hour, plus benefits. But, because the union won and there are protections in the work agreement guaranteeing an 8-hour day, a 40-hour work week and scheduled employees, the carrier has indicated there will be 50 to 60, possibly 70, new positions at $20.50 an hour, plus benefits. The community will benefit to a greater extent from the union jobs,” he said.
Kent confirmed Tuesday that the mediation board found against BNSF and that BNSF expects to fill between 50 and 70 jobs in Clovis with union employees.
But, Lancaster said, under the new arrangement jobs are going first to union members willing to accept a transfer to Clovis.
“Eight are already working. Four of those are from Fort Worth, Texas; one is from Amarillo; one is from Houston; one is from Temple, Texas; and one is from Pueblo, Colo. There are 15 or 16 on the list from Belen,” he said.
He said whether any of the 35 workers already trained by Progress Rail are hired is up to BNSF. Kent said the company has not yet decided about hiring the workers.
BNSF moved jobs from Clovis to Belen in the 1980s, when it consolidated its inspection sites. A November 1986 agreement between the railroad and the union protects union members’ rights to Clovis jobs, so long as there are four hours of work on rail cars available in an 8-hour shift. BNSF argued it was entitled to contract the work out, because there was a lack of qualified manpower available and because contracting would offer a considerable savings, but the mediation board found for the union, Lancaster said.
The city of Clovis and Curry County approved closing a railroad crossing at Wheaton Street in May to allow for BNSF’s yard expansion. Part of that agreement was that the expansion “may” create the opportunity for 80 new jobs in Clovis/Curry County. City Manager Ray Mondragon said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of the recent changes and was concerned they would affect the railroad’s ability to provide the 80 jobs.
“I certainly intend to call them about it,” he said.