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Late-April safety summit set for BNSF, UTU, BLE

United Transportation Union and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers April 9 announced plans to hold a joint safety summit April 30 in Kansas City, Mo., with Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
UTU International President Byron Boyd Jr. originally called for the joint summit, stating that safety is an issue that must transcend union rivalries.
"By working together, we can accomplish twice as much for our members when it comes to safety," he said in a prepared statement.
In a March 14 joint letter to BNSF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Rose, UTU and BLE officials expressed concern at the unusually high number of accidents, injuries and fatalities on BNSF properties in recent months.
Fifteen cars from a BNSF train derailed Dec. 13, 2000, near Stanton, Iowa, followed by a New Year’s Eve coal train derailment near Red Oak, Iowa.
Then March 3, a switching accident in Willmar, Minn., killed a UTU switchman.
"We are in agreement that centering on past individual incidents would be unproductive in addressing our mutual interests," wrote Boyd and BLE International President Edward Dubroski in their joint letter. "Past incidents only can be useful in what they tell us about what is needed to satisfy those interests."
UTU’s safety concerns date back to October 1999, when BNSF instituted an "availability policy" for train, yard and engine employees. The policy — which UTU claimed could force some employees to work up to 30 12-hour days per month — prompted UTU to pull out of two Federal Railroad Administration labor-management programs: Safety Assurance and Compliance Program, and Railroad Safety Advisory Committee. BNSF dropped the policy in February 2000.
Top UTU, BLE and BNSF officers plan to attend the safety summit, as well as UTU’s and BLE’s general chairmen and state legislative officers.
"We’re always willing to talk about safety and working conditions at BNSF, and it seems to me that this type of dialogue could be beneficial," Rose wrote in a late March response letter.

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