Although it comes as no surprise to railroad employees, an investigative article exposes for the rest of the country how railroads continue to retaliate against workers who report safety hazards or injuries. The article is entitled: For Big Railroads, a Carload of Whistleblower Complaints and is published by FairWarning Reports.
The article notes that from October 2007 through June 2015, OSHA figures show railroad workers filed more than 2,000 retaliation complaints. And nationwide, during that period seven of the top ten employers subjected to whistleblower retaliation complaints were railroads, in the following order: BSNF 409; Union Pacific 360; CSX 267; Norfolk Southern 247; Canadian National 151; Amtrak 119; and Metro North Railroad 102.
Here are some of the more notable points the article makes:
The alleged violations defy a key intent of federal whistleblower laws: to encourage employees who discover possible hazards to come forward before an accident happens. The potential value of such an early warning system is underscored by the deadly passenger rail accidents and oil train wrecks in recent years. Joseph C. Szabo, who headed the FRA from 2009 until this January, said industry supervisors often are under “immense pressure” to curb costs by moving trains quickly out of rail yards. That, in turn, translates into pressure on rank-and-file workers “to ignore safety protocols and to just get the damn train out of town.” That’s why, Szabo said, it’s “critically important” that railroad workers are “very comfortable in doing the right thing without any fear of retribution.”
In 2012, amid widespread suspicion that railroads were under counting injuries, in part by pressuring workers not to report them, the industry dropped its 99-year-old annual Harriman safety award, which was largely based on employee injury reports. Norfolk Southern, which had won Harriman safety “gold award” 23 years in a row before the honor was scrapped, was the target of 247 whistleblower complaints during the nearly eight-year period tracked. That was the fifth-highest total among all U.S. employers.
Szabo, the former FRA chief, said railroads have embraced more enlightened practices over the past decade or so, but management still has elements of “a paramilitary structure, very much command and control.” To this day, railroads remain discipline-minded. Operating and safety manuals run hundreds of pages. Suspected violators, including workers who get hurt, face internal investigations. Critics still echo Congressional investigators who in 2007 found that railroad companies, along with federal regulators, are “more oriented toward assigning blame to a single individual, without a thorough examination of the underlying causes that led that single individual to commit an error.”