Closure of Glendive Diesel Shop announced

By 
Jason Stuart
Thursday, May 14, 2020

Glendive was originally founded and platted by the Northern Pacific Railroad, and for nearly 140 years the city’s railyard has bustled with activity and workmen and been a mainstay of the community’s economy and DNA. But in 60 days it will all come to an end as BNSF Railway informed its Glendive employees on Thursday that the company is permanently closing the Glendive Diesel Shop, shuttering the last remaining major railroad operation in town and putting 85 people out of work.

Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison lamented the loss of highpaying jobs and the almost inevitable loss of dozens of skilled workers and their families who will likely be forced to leave Glendive to find employment at salaries comparable to what they were making with BNSF.

“The loss of any jobs in Glendive hurts considerably, but especially so here since the railroad was the founding father of Glendive and has always been a mainstay of the economy,” Jimison said. “It will be devastating to our community.”

Jimison worked for BNSF as a clerk until 1979 when the company moved those positions out of Glendive. But he remained close to the railroad as he moved over to being a General Motors parts representative to the BN diesel shop for the next 15 years. With his long personal association with the railroad, Jimison said the news hit particularly close to home.

“I’m friends with a lot of the people who have worked and still worked over there, and my heart goes out to them that they have to upheave their families in the middle of their career and move other places,” Jimison said.

According to BNSF spokeswoman Marie LaSalle, the decision to close the Glendive diesel shop is based on reduced rail traffic due to reduced commodities shipping by rail. In particular, the company is pointing to significant reductions in the rail shipment of coal and oil as a causative factor.

“BNSF Railway has made the decision to close the diesel shop maintenance facility in Glendive, Montana in response to our customers’ changing business conditions and projected lower demand for rail cars to ship commodities. This announcement is specific to our mechanical forces and impacts 85 jobs in Glendive,” LaSalle said in an email statement. “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.” One thing not listed as a fac

One thing not listed as a factor in BNSF’s decision is the coronavirus. In fact LaSalle stated that the decision has nothing at all to do with it, indicating that BNSF has been planning this closure for some time.

“This decision is not related to COVID-19,” she stated.

LaSalle did not directly respond to questions asking why BNSF would choose to make this announcement and take this action in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, coming as it does at a time when it will be even more difficult than usual for those affected to find new jobs. Some of the Glendive employees affected have been offered transfer to BNSF facilities in other states.

“We understand the significant impact this has on our employees and the communities in which they live. 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,” LaSalle said. “Em ployees 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.”

LaSalle also noted in her statement that BNSF will still have “approximately 70 transportation, engineering, signal, and roadway equipment workers” based in Glendive following the diesel shop closure.

Glendive isn’t the only community affected, as BN’s Thursday announcement also detailed the closure of facilities in two Wyoming communities and reductions in force at facilities in Mandan, N.D.; Minot, N.D.; and other locations. A total of 344 employees were affected across the BNSF system.

In Glendive, the 85 positions eliminated included 35 machinists, 22 electricians, seven pipefitters, 15 laborers and six exempt employees.

Employees were told there were 121 positions to offer at other facilities throughout the company. The Glendive diesel shop will close on July 6.

BNSF has been chipping away at its workforce in Glendive over the last several years. They cut 25 local jobs in 2016, then another 55 in 2017, though they later added back another 20 or so jobs the following year. However, this is the largest single reduction in recent memory, and will be the first time since the first trains rolled into town in the early 1880s that the Glendive railyard will be devoid of any major railroad operations and workforce activity.

“We have seen fluctuations in the railroad workforce at various points throughout our history, but this is the first time they’ve furloughed that many people at once,” Jimison said.

The mayor closed his thoughts with a little hope that somehow, someday, rail traffic might pick back up to the point where BNSF might need to return.

“When business picks back up for BNSF, we hope they will have to utilize the mechanical facilities here in Glendive again,” Jimison said.

Reach Jason Stuart at dcedc@midrivers.com.

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