Unions sue Union Pacific over implementation of Biden’s vaccine mandate
10/22/2021 // Mary Villareal // Views

Rail labor unions have sued railroad operator Union Pacific over the implementation of President Joe Biden's mandate that requires employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19).

The unions argued that the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad operator should have negotiated with them before announcing that it would require all employees to get COVID-19 vaccines. The railroad operator contends that it has the authority to require vaccination under its existing contracts because it can set its own standards regarding whether or not employees are fit for duty.

Union Pacific has filed its own suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to prevent union members from striking or taking other actions that could affect the railroad's operations.

Both sides say that the other is failing at negotiating accordingly under the guidelines as per the Railway Labor Act. The parties are in the middle of multi-year negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The railroad operator, which announced earlier this month that it would require all employees to be vaccinated by December 8, wants any dispute over the mandate issued by Biden to be resolved through dispute resolution procedures as outlined in the Railway Labor Act.

Union Pacific is offering union employees a $300 bonus if they get the COVID-19 vaccine. Non-union employees, on the other hand, are offered a half-day vacation if they get vaccinated.

Lawsuits filed over vaccine mandates

On the same day the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) union filed its lawsuit, Union Pacific filed its own lawsuit against SMART-TD and two other unions that objected to the vaccine mandate.


"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. 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 says in a statement.

Vaccine mandates from governments and private businesses have generated resistance in workplaces. Union Pacific has told its employees that they will be medically disqualified under their contracts rather than fired if they refuse to get vaccinated.

However, the unions argue that Union Pacific is unfairly changing the conditions of their employment without negotiating with them first.

"We have been in contract negotiations with Union Pacific since November of 2019, and federal law absolutely bars railroads from changing rates of pay, rules and working conditions while negotiations are ongoing. Not only is Union Pacific in violation of the law, it has explicitly spurned our demands that these matters be bargained," SMART-TD says in a statement. (Related: Soldiers sue Pentagon over COVID-19 vaccination mandates.)

The other unions that objected to the mandate are the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way unit of the International Teamsters union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

The engineers' union points out that many people across the country have been reluctant about getting vaccinated, and that they must be aware of the substantial divide. "It should come as no surprise that many of our members are opposed to being forced to get a vaccination for a variety of reasons, while many have already been vaccinated," the union says.

In its lawsuit, Union Pacific says that it is willing to meet with the unions to discuss any concerns related to their compliance with the mandate for federal contractors.

"It is Union Pacific's position that its implied right to set fitness for duty standards includes the right to require employees to comply with the requirements of the [federal] mandate. Union Pacific's position is supported by decades of past practice, and is, at a minimum, not frivolous or obviously insubstantial," its lawsuit states.

Get more news and updates regarding COVID-19 vaccine mandates at Pandemic.news.

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