By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Wyoming legislator is urging Gov. Mark Gordon to ensure rail workers’ safety during the coronavirus pandemic, reiterating to the governor how important the industry is to Wyoming.
Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, will admit that the Union Pacific and BNSF railroads were caught off-guard by the pandemic, but also noted that these definitely weren’t the only two companies that were surprised by the arrival of the disease in the United States.
“We didn’t have any hand sanitizer or masks at first,” he said. “We got some sanitizer last week, though, and I’ve resorted to wearing a bandana as a mask.”
On a call last week with Gordon and scores of other Wyoming legislators, Blake alerted the head of state to his concerns for the safety of him and his colleagues while working in train depots or riding on the lines.
During a Wednesday press conference, Gordon praised UP and BNSF for stepping up to help its workers during the pandemic. He referenced Blake’s comments during the conference.
“I am also encouraged, we have a legislative call once a week and one of the issues that came up was how railroads were handling workplace situations,” the governor said. “I am happy to say that both Burlington Northern and UP responded with increased diligence for their workplaces and workers.”
Since railroad employees are considered essential by the federal government, their safety and health should be a major priority, Blake said. The various railroad companies are now trying to enforce social distancing guidelines and do as much as they can to keep employees safe.
On Wednesday, UP announced that it was teaming up with Brickway Brewery and Distillery to make more than 400,000 ounces of sanitizer in four- and eight-ounce bottles for the railroad’s employees. Once the 48,000 bottles are ready, they will be sent to the railroad’s warehouse in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The sanitzer will be distributed from there.
But Blake believes more can be done. As someone who works in the Green River train depot every day, he feels it should be cleaned and sanitized every eight hours. He also pointed to practices in the region’s trona mines as a great example, as employees must submit to a temperature check before going to work.
Blake’s concerns stem from the fact that locomotives come through the area every day after traveling through virus hotspots such as Seattle or Los Angeles.
While UP employees have been instructed to clean their work stations every time they come on or get off of a shift, Blake worries one small mishap could have a massive ripple effect.
“You have a locomotive leaving Seattle and it will change crews a few times before hitting Green River,” he said. “If someone gets on in Seattle and they’re asymptomatic, they could pass the virus on easily. If the next crew doesn’t come on board and do their due diligence by sanitizing, it could be coming down the track to Wyoming.”