MINNESOTA LABOR OFFICIAL SEES CLASH OVER BNSF'S PLAN TO TRANSFER JOBS

MINNESOTA LABOR OFFICIAL SEES CLASH OVER BNSF'S PLAN TO TRANSFER JOBS

A Minnesota rail labor official is predicting a clash between the Transportation Communications Union (TCU) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF) over the company's proposal to move nearly 600 BN clerks from St. Paul and Minneapolis to Topeka, Kan.

Tom Truhler, chairman of Transportation Communications Union Lodge 593, in St. Paul envisioned that clash, saying news of the company's consolidation plan was a "bombshell" that has caused turmoil in his ranks."Most feel this is a poor way to start a new company with its employees," he said.

BNSF previously has stated plans to eliminate 1,400 clerical positions by merging its railroads, a move approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission over the summer.

"We would like to run the (new) railroad on a centralized basis," said Jim Sabourin, a BNSF spokesman. "We are looking at Topeka as being the central location for clerical functions for the new railroad."

The issue may be complicated because some employees who began their railroad careers before 1970 have lifetime job protection under the terms of a merger that created Burlington Northern by combining three smaller carriers.

Mr. Sabourin stressed that the railroad is talking with union leaders about the proposal and hasn't made any decision or set a deadline for one.

He added, however, that executives of the new company are eager for a swift consolidation "in order to achieve the synergies and benefits that we can with this merger."

Topeka is a major administrative center for the Santa Fe.

Even if the new railroad ultimately locates its primary clerical operations in Topeka, it is uncertain whether all of the jobs will land there, Mr. Sabourin said.

Under the terms of labor agreements with TCU and other unions, the company must negotiate with each union to agree on terms to implement the merger.

BNSF already has agreed to pay workers who lose their jobs because of the merger for up to six years.

The threatened departure of BN clerical positions from Minnesota would be yet another in a decade-long downsizing of the railroad's presence in that state.

Currently, BN's Minnesota work force is about 3,500. Fifteen years ago, it was three times larger.