Union Pacific’s unions argue that the railroad giant needed to first negotiate with them before it announced earlier this month it would require all its workers to get the vaccine. In a lawsuit of its own, filed last week, Union Pacific said that it has the authority to mandate the shots.
The railroad said that it would mandate all its workers to get the vaccine by Dec. 8 to comply with President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 announcement requiring all federal contractors to get the vaccine. Meanwhile, it is simultaneously offering $300 bonuses if employees get the vaccine.
“This action is necessary to prevent any disruption of the national rail network and to avoid any impact on America’s supply chain, as it continues to recover from the pandemic,” the firm said in a statement on Monday. “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.”
Union Pacific filed its lawsuit against the unions in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Friday to prevent them from going on strike or taking other actions to affect the company’s operations.
The railroad, in the suit, said that it has an “implied right to set fitness for duty standards includes the right to require employees to comply with the requirements” of the mandate. “Union Pacific’s position is supported by decades of past practice, and is, at a minimum, not frivolous or obviously insubstantial,” it said.
It came as the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) filed a suit in the Illinois court.
“We generally support our members getting the vaccine. However, we have several objections to UP’s unilateral implementation of their policies mandating them and illegally dealing directly with its represented employees. The members of our Unions—including members who already are vaccinated—are irate over UP’s outrageous conduct,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) in a statement announcing the suit.
The union contends that federal law prohibits railroads from changing their rates of pay and working conditions during negotiations with unions. It said that contract discussions have been ongoing between the unions and Union Pacific since November 2019.
“Over the past two weeks, the Union Pacific Railroad seems to have forgotten that it is not Walmart. The railroad has unilaterally changed pay provisions for vaccinated employees who experience a breakthrough COVID infection due to workplace exposure,” they stated.