Women want the railroad to back off

  Kathy Beisner and her family used to take vacation trips in their camper. Though her husband Ron worked long hours for the Union Pacific railroad, making the run between Omaha and their hometown of North Platte, Neb., there was always time off to take the kids camping. No more. Since a 1996 merger with Southern Pacific (HCN, 11/10/97), the railroad can call her husband at just about any time with 90 minutes' notice to get to the train yard. The company can also send him on the road for over two days after just eight hours at home.

After a series of ruined camping trips, says Kathy Beisner, "We sold the camper, because there's no reason to have it."

She's fighting back by founding and leading a group called WARR: Women/Wives Against the Railroad. She acknowledges that the name is more hostile than the wives, girlfriends and fiancées that it represents, but it gets attention at a time when the railroad unions are hobbled by a no-strike contract, and freight delays fill most of the media's limited appetite for rail news.

"I look at it as slavery - the railroad thinks they own these guys," says Beisner. Now, in addition to North Platte, railroad towns from Little Rock, Ark., to Yuma, Ariz., to Rawlins, Wyo., have started chapters.

Since its June launch, WARR has met with federal officials who offered to help the group track labor-law violations and with railroad authorities. The merged company, which kept Union Pacific's name and leadership, admits that it's understaffed and says it plans a major hiring campaign to take the strain off employees. Meanwhile, it's working to standardize scheduling and developing a napping program for employees in order to increase safety.

UP's Ed Trandahl insists that the railroad is as eager to solve the problem as Beisner and her allies. "We look forward to the day that they will no longer call themselves at WARR with the railroad," he says.

* Gabriel Ross