You can tell a lot about a workplace culture by how managers react to employee safety complaints. Enlightened managers welcome safety complaints, benighted managers suppress them. Enlightened managers view such complaints as a valuable opportunity for improvement, and underscore the first importance of safety by publicly thanking those employees. Benighted managers view such complaints as a personal attack. To them, protecting their insecure egos is more important than safety. And so they lash out, finding a way to retaliate in order to broadcast what happens when workers have the audacity to question their competence.

Now comes OSHA with a Merit Finding against CSX that serves as a lesson for such benighted railroad managers. When IBEW member JJ Giuliano got fed up with the failure of CSX managers at the Selkirk Shop to address longstanding safety complaints, he delivered a letter to Superintendent Daniel Lisowski listing various violations of FRA safety regulations. In OSHA’s words, it was “a very strongly worded letter” identifying “serious safety hazards” and noting CSX’s managers “daily ritual of placing production over all else, such as shop cleanliness, locomotive quality, safety of its employees, and safety of the communities its trains pass through.”

What was the response of the CSX managers? Instead of thanking Giuliano, a few days later they cited him for not using a crosswalk board and imposed a ten day suspension. This despite the fact another employee who they saw doing the same thing was not cited. No one else had been suspended for an O test before, and they ignored Giuliano’s clean disciplinary record when imposing the suspension.

Giuliano filed a classic Federal Rail Safety Act Complaint. CSX responded by arguing Giuliano’s letter was not protected under the FRSA, a contention OSHA found “incredible.” OSHA’s investigation found “reasonable cause to believe CSX violated the FRSA” and that punitive damages are appropriate because “CSX Transportation, Inc. has demonstrated a pattern of retaliation against employees who file FRSA complaints.” OSHA ordered CSX to:

  • pay punitive damages, plus all the attorney’s fees of Guiliano’s attorney;
  • have all managers at CSX’s Selkirk Shop receive OSHA’s FRSA training;
  • provide all new hires with information on their FRSA rights;
  • expunge the suspension from Giuliano’s employment records;
  • not retaliate against Giuliano for pursuing the FRSA complaint; and
  • post in a Notice at Selkirk Shop a Notice confirming CSX will not retaliate or discriminate against employees who file FRSA complaints.

All CSX employees can thank OSHA for shining a spotlight into the dark culture of CSX retaliation. Those of us who believe in rail safety can only hope that one day all benighted railroad managers will finally see the light.

Here is the full text of OSHA’s Merit Finding in Giuliano v. CSX Transportation, Inc. For more information on the whistleblower rights of railroad workers, go to the free Rail Whistleblower Library.