The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Iowa recently held that Union Pacific's unilateral implementation of an "iris recognition system" to record the attendance of maintenance of way workers gave rise to a minor dispute. BMWED v. Union Pacific RR Co., W.D. Iowa, Docket No. 06-4103-MWB.
The applicable collective bargaining agreements gave UP the right to "make changes in work methods" and to "make technological, operational and organizational changes." While observing that this was a "close case," the court ruled held that the carrier's position was not obviously insubstantial, and thus gave rise to a minor dispute. Of particular interest was the court's rejection of BMWED's past-practice argument. The organization argued that the carrier had not used other forms of attendance verification such as time cards. However, the court reasoned that automated iris recognition is not categorically different than a human timekeeper and thus concluded that the matter should be subject to arbitration.