BLET urges rail industry to address coronavirus pandemic

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, March 6 — The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) is urging the railroad industry to take steps to protect BLET members, their co-workers and the general public from the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce voiced the union’s concerns in a March 5 letter to Brendan Branon, Chairman of the National Railway Labor Conference, Chuck Baker, President of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, and Paul Skoutelas, President and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association.

“While significant steps are already being taken — for example, by airlines cancelling flights to areas of high infestation and by multi-national employers who are restricting employee travel to such areas — the railroad industry has yet, to our knowledge, to announce any protective measures,” President Pierce wrote. “The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen urges all railroads to take two immediate steps that will serve to protect our membership, and the co-workers and the public with whom they have contact.”

First, Pierce urges the railroads to suspend their attendance policies and actively encourage sick employees to stay home, in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pierce said rail workers who show symptoms of acute respiratory illness should stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (or signs of a fever) for at least 24 hours.

“In order to effectuate this recommendation, all railroads should immediately suspend all non-collectively bargained attendance policies as they relate to all illness-related time away from work, (in place, pending or in dispute) at least until the COVID-19 outbreak is under control,” President Pierce wrote. “This step will go far in providing separation between sick individuals and those who are healthy.”

Second, the railroads should immediately address workplace sanitation and provide crewmembers with hand sanitizer and high-quality disinfecting wipes.

“When locomotives are serviced, all interior cab surfaces — including the interior of the locomotive nose, bathroom, and door handles and window latches — should be cleansed with a 60%-90% isopropyl alcohol-based surface sanitizer; exterior door handles, grab irons, railings and hand brakes also should be so cleansed,” President Pierce wrote. “Similarly, shared computer work stations and crew rooms should be routinely sanitized to prevent the ‘community spread’ of the virus. Further, crewmembers should be supplied with an adequate combination of (i) hand sanitizer that contains 60%-90% isopropyl alcohol, (ii) wipes containing at least 4% Chlorhexidine Gluconate (CG) and .5% Benzethonium Chloride (BZC), and/or (iii) wipes con­taining 60-90% isopropyl alcohol.”

Pierce noted that wipes currently provided by some railroads typically contain only 0.1% CG and 0.08% BZC, which are far below the levels required to kill viruses.

“I trust you share my concern over the severity of this situation, and I look forward to learning what specific steps your railroad intends to take to address this threat to the health and safety of our members,” President Pierce concluded.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

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