Sunday, October 25, 2015

For Big Railroads, a Carload of Whistleblower Complaints

For Big Railroads, a Carload of Whistleblower Complaints

By Stuart Silverstein and Brian Joseph     October 21, 2015   FairWarning

As both a veteran railroad worker and union official responsible for safety, Mike Elliott became alarmed when he learned of trouble-plagued train signals in his home state of Washington.

Signals, he said, at times would inexplicably switch from red to yellow to green – potentially creating confusion that could lead to a crash. Elliott raised that and other signal issues repeatedly with his managers at BNSF Railway Co. But eventually, Elliott concluded that “these guys are running me around in circles.”

So Elliott, 57, of Tacoma, Wash., pressed his concerns with the Federal Railroad Administration, summarizing the matter in a January 2011 letter. The FRA investigated, and discovered 357 safety violations, including 112 signal system defects.

 Speaking up for safety, though, only made matters worse for Elliott at BNSF, where he already had clashed with managers. Within weeks the company fired Elliott from his job as a locomotive engineer – an act that a federal jury this summer ruled was illegal retaliation by BNSF against a whistleblower.

The June 30 decision by the Tacoma jury, which awarded Elliott $1.25 million but is being appealed, spotlights the unjust punishment that critics say sometimes is meted out to railroad workers who report injuries or safety problems. These critics, including plaintiff lawyers and union officials, along with others who have examined railroad practices, say the harsh treatment reflects old, hard-line management tactics that persist in corners of the industry…..

…. an administrative law judge in 2013 ruled against Union Pacific, declaring: “The actions by Union Pacific have been so egregious in this case, and Union Pacific has been so openly blatant in ignoring the provisions of [federal law], that I find punitive damages are necessary to ensure that this reprehensible conduct is not repeated.” …..

…. 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.” ….   More here

Other News:



Dayton says oil-by-rail shipments through Twin Cities puts thousands of Minnesotans at risk

Grand Forks Herald  - ‎Oct 21, 2015‎
In the letter to BNSF president and CEO Carl Ice, Dayton says nearly 100,000 more people are within the ½ mile evacuation zone of crude oil rail shipping routes in Minnesota now that BNSF is shipping Bakken crude oil along a rail line through downtown ...

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