By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2006 – A U.S. railroad freight firm has earned the right to blow its locomotives' whistles in celebration of Defense Department recognition for superb support of its employees in the National Guard and Reserve. BNSF Railway, with headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, is one of 15 U.S. businesses selected to receive the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for 2006.
"BNSF is very pleased to have been nominated and selected to receive this award," said Connie McLendon, BNSF's military staffing manager. "This is an important distinction that very few companies receive, recognizing outstanding support for our National Guard, Reserve and veteran employees."
Today, more than 175 of BNSF's 40,000 employees are serving on active military duty, McLendon noted, with more than 485 having been called up for service since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States. McLendon said her company provides "enhanced and extended benefits for those employees called to active duty in the war on terrorism." That includes company-provided differential pay to supplement an employee's military salary, as well as extended health-care benefits.
Additionally, BNSF organizes welcome-home celebrations and provides care packages for employees who are called up for active military service, McLendon said. The company also dedicates resources to assist employees' transitions when they depart for duty and after they return. The railway also has an aggressive veterans' hiring program, McLendon said, noting her firm hired more than 750 former servicemembers in 2005. And BNSF has hired more than 700 veterans so far this year, she said, amounting to about 20 percent of all hires.
In a recent statement, Matthew K. Rose, BNSF's chairman, president and chief executive officer, summed up his company's philosophy of supporting employees who are past or present members of the U.S. military. "We recognize and appreciate the sacrifice and service not only of the citizen-soldiers who are members of Team BNSF," Rose said, "but of all of America's heroes who have answered the call to serve and defend our country since Sept. 11, 2001."
John Lanigan, BNSF's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, will accept the DoD award at a Sept. 21 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award recognizes U.S. employers that rise above the requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a DoD agency, manages the award process.
ESGR assists Guard and Reserve members and their employers understand employee eligibility and job entitlements, employer obligations, benefits and remedies under the act.
In February, BNSF underlined its commitment to those who serve in the National Guard or Reserve, McLendon said, by signing ESGR's "5-Star Statement of Support." Very few employers of National Guardsmen and reservists have achieved such status, which recognizes patriotism and high standards of employee support, she said.
Formerly known as Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, BNSF Railway is one of America's largest railroads. Its more than 6,000 locomotives and 220,000 freight cars ship automobiles, timber, minerals, food, chemicals and metals over 32,000 miles of track, serving 28 western states and two Canadian provinces, company officials said.