October 18, 2021 - TRA Newswire -

Citing a potential disruption to the flow of goods in Texas and throughout the national rail network, Union Pacific Railroad has filed suit in U.S. District Court to oppose forced vaccine mandates being imposed at the federal level.

A Union Pacific spokesperson said "we are opposing the pending Texas legislation on the subject and our CEO talked to Arkansas Governor Hutchinson requesting a veto of the legislation that passed last week in that state."

The federal suit was filed after receiving communications from three unions protesting the Class I's vaccination mandate. Those unions are the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED).

Union Pacific's Robynn Tysver indicated that court action is needed to prevent any disruption of the national rail network and avoid impact on the nation's supply chain as the country continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.  UP would like to have any dispute over a vaccine mandate resolved through the Railway Labor Act, not by a federal mandate, according to the company.

Other Texas companies opposed to Senate Bill 51, authored by Senator Bryan Hughes and working its way through the Senate this week, include the Association of General Contractors (AGC-TBB); Texas REALTORS; the Chemical Council; Hotels and Lodging; Texas Trucking Association and many Chambers of Commerce.

Last week Union Pacific announced that it would comply with the White House’s executive order requiring employees of federal contractors to get vaccinated by Dec. 8.  The railroad announced that "as a federal contractor who ships goods supporting our nation’s armed services, Union Pacific is fulfilling this federal requirement."  UP employees are required to report their vaccination status or have an approved medical or religious exemption before the December 8th federal deadline. Those not in compliance would face being medically disqualified from work.

The issue has put Union Pacific in a no-win position between the federal government and its unions. The unions are objecting to UP's implementation of the policy, citing ongoing contract talks since late 2019 and what the unions call "UP's unilateral implementation of their policies mandating them and illegally dealing directly with its represented employees."

On its website, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED) President Freddie Simpson said he is opposed to any company requirement forcing BMWED members get the COVID-19 vaccine or told they can't work. Union execs at SMART-TD and BLET said they generally support members getting vaccinated but take issue with UP's required federal mandate.

UP's Tysver said that "we continue to work with our employees and their union representatives as we comply with the law. We look forward to the court’s help in that effort."