Billings, K2 Radio: BNSF Railway is closing several mechanical facilities and eliminating 344 jobs as it tries to adapt to the declining coal industry.
KX News received a statement late Thursday May 7th from a BNSF spokeswoman who says 7 employees in Mandan and 6 employees in Minot are affected by the cuts.
“Those employees have been notified, and we’re working to connect them with available resources. We are also offering the option to potentially transfer to a number of open positions at other locations in our network. Employees accepting a job in other locations will receive a relocation package to assist with the move. Some impacted employees will be able to exercise their seniority for these jobs as part of their collective bargaining agreements,” says Amy McBeth with BNSF.
Company documents made available to K2 Radio News by a BNSF employee, who asked to remain anonymous, show 122 people will lose their jobs when two Wyoming mechanical facilities — at Donkey Creek, near Rozet, and Guernsey — are permanently closed in June and July, respectively.
“Unfortunately, this is a long-term structural market shift that will have a lasting impact on BNSF and the rail industry,” Gary L. Grissum, vice president of the company’s mechanical division, told mechanical general chairman in a May 6 letter.
So far in 2020, over 400 jobs have been cut at Powder River Basin coal mines, including 170 layoffs at Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle Mine near Wright and 130 layoffs at two mines owned by Navajo Transitional Energy Company in Wyoming and Montana.
A portion of the impacted BNSF employees will have an opportunity to transfer, as there are 121 positions available at other facilities. Grissum indicated that unspecified relocation benefits are available.
“In addition, we’ve seen declines in crude oil shipments in the Bakken region, and a significant reduction in locomotives required to support volumes on the network,” Grissum added.
Beyond the impacted Wyoming facilities, the diesel shop in Glendive, Montana will be permanently closed.
Elsewhere, the company will reduce its mechanical forces at the locomotive shop in Alliance, Nebraska; the back shop in Topeka, Kansas; the Lincoln, Nebraska car repair facility; the Minot, North Dakota car facility; the Mandan, North Dakota car facility and the Superior, Wisconsin locomotive and car facility.
June 5 will be the last day for employees at Donkey Creek, Alliance, Topeka, Lincoln, Minot, Mandan and Superior. Again, 7 employees in Mandan and 6 employees in Minot are affected.
Operations at Glendive and Guernsey will cease July 7, according to Grissum’s letter.
“We value our scheduled workforce and it is difficult to make changes like these that impact our employees and their families,” Grissum said. “However, the actions we are taking are essential to ensure a competitive cost structure in the changing business environment.”
BNSF spokeswoman Maia LaSalle provided a statement to K2 Radio News regarding the closures. The company statement confirmed the Wyoming facility closures and explained the decision was made “in response to our customers’ changing business conditions and projected lower demand for rail cars to ship commodities.”
“Similar to the size of our train, yard and engine workforce, our mechanical teams must match the demand for traffic moved by our railroad. With volumes lower than anticipated due to several factors, including changes in the coal and energy sector, the number of rail cars and locomotives moving on our network and thus repairs needed, have decreased,” the company said.
“We understand the significant impact this has on our employees and the communities in which they live,” the BNSF statement issued Thursday reads. “We are working diligently to connect them with available resources, while also offering the option to potentially transfer to a number of open positions at other locations in our network.
“Employees accepting a job in other locations will receive a relocation package to assist with the move. Some impacted employees can exercise their seniority for these jobs as part of their collective bargaining agreements,” the company said.
The statement from LaSalle also confirmed the closure dates for the two shops at Donkey Creek and Guernsey.