Unions, Iowa National Guard criticize Union Pacific for denying Veterans Day off for Vets

FILE - In this July 31, 2018, file photo a Union Pacific train travels through Union, Neb.
FILE - In this July 31, 2018, file photo a Union Pacific train travels through Union, Neb.(Nati Harnik | AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 12:09 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa labor leaders and the head of the Iowa National Guard say Union Pacific may be violating a state law by denying Veterans Day holiday requests for veterans.

The President of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, Charlie Wishman, said Union Pacific notified employees Wednesday that requests for Friday off for Veterans Day had been denied. It pointed to an Iowa law requiring companies to grant holiday time off to veterans on Veterans Day. That law includes exemptions where managers can deny those requests if the time off would compromise the company’s business functions or public health or safety. However, in those instances, the law says companies should provide at least ten days notice of the denial of time off.

“Railroad worker quality of life and morale in the nation’s freight rail system are at lows, and nationally workers have been negotiating at the bargaining table for time off without discipline, adequate staffing, paid health care, and improved quality of life,” said Wishman. “To ensure safe and reliable freight rail service, incredibly profitable Class-I rail carriers like Union Pacific need to step up and deliver for their employees.”

Union Pacific Spokesperson Robyn Tysver told TV9 said the company was forced to deny days off for Veterans Day because of workforce challenges.

“We considered all available manpower required for operations and determined, based on our operational capacity, we are not able to grant the requested leaves for Friday,” Tysver wrote in an email.

“Union Pacific determined earlier this week that the number of Iowa employees who requested leave would negatively affect our ability to meet our customers’ need, which would impact the nation’s supply chain, Tysver added. “We did not make this decision lightly or without regard to the impact it would have on our employees.”

The decision drew the ire of the head of the Iowa National Guard. The Des Moines Register obtained an email Adj. Gen. Ben Correll sent Union Pacific asking it to reconsider the denials.

“The short notice of your decision to deny those in your workforce who have served our nation the 1-day of the year that we pay respect to those who have sacrificed for our nation in order to chase a corporate profit is, simply wrong,” Adj. Gen. Correll wrote.

In response, Union Pacific administration reiterated the manpower concerns adding that it sometimes does not know train schedules until days or even hours beforehand to be able to determine workforce needs.

The spat comes as railroad unions nationwide are on the cusp of a strike over working conditions, including concerns about time off. A date for a possible strike has been delayed until December for unions to vote on a proposed contract but several unions have already rejected that latest offer.