Sounds like Joe Szabo will be the next Head of the Federal Railroad Administration. If so, this is good news for rail labor and anyone concerned with promoting rail safety. Joe’s background is as a conductor for both freight and passenger railroads, and until recently he served as Illinois state legislative director for the UTU. Joe has known Obama since Obama was an Illinois state legislator, so Joe will have the President’s ear.

And speaking of Hope and Change, is it too much to hope for that Joe will take steps to increase the coordination between the FRA and OSHA’s Whistleblower Office when it comes to investigating railroad violations of the new Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 USC 20109? Congress assigned OSHA the responsibility to investigate FRSA retaliation complaints, but did not give OSHA the subpoena power to force recalcitrant rail managers to hand over the internal documents and data needed to prove patterns of systemic abuse. That’s where coordinated efforts by the FRA can come in.

Many of the FRSA violations for retaliating against employees who report injuries and interfering with their medical treatment also are violations of the Internal Control Plan the FRA requires railroads to live by, 49 CFR Part 225. The FRA requires all railroads to publish and enforce an Internal Control Plan (ICP). The Metro-North Railroad ICP is typical, and reads as follows:

"Metro-North Railroad is committed to the complete and accurate reporting of all accidents, incidents, injuries, and occupational illnesses arising from the operation of the railroad. Metro-North is also committed to full compliance with the FRA’s accident reporting regulations. Harassment or intimidation of any person that is calculated to discourage or prevent any person from receiving proper medical treatment or from reporting any accident, incident, injury, or occupational illness will not be permitted or tolerated. Disciplinary action will be taken against any employee, supervisor, manager, or officer of Metro-North Railroad who harasses or intimidates."

So a violation of the FRSA often will be a violation of a railroad’s ICP, thus giving the FRA the jurisdiction and obligation to investigate. If the FRA works together with OSHA’s Whistleblower Office to develop the information necessary to fully investigate such violations, the enforcement of the FRSA will be materially strengthened.