Union Pacific Railroad ordered by US Labor Department to pay more than $309,000 for violating the Federal Railroad Safety Act. Order is OSHA’s third in 13 months against railroad’s Pocatello, Idaho, operations.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found that Union Pacific Railroad Co. in Pocatello, Idaho, violated the whistle-blower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and has ordered the railroad to pay more than $309,000 in back wages, benefits, damages and reasonable attorney’s fees to a conductor after determining retaliation for reporting a co-worker’s work-related injury.
“This current order follows three other orders issued by the department against Union Pacific Railroad in the past 13 months,” said Dean Ikeda, OSHA’s regional administrator in Seattle. “OSHA’s investigations have found that the railroad continues to retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries.”
OSHA determined that Union Pacific Railroad retaliated against a locomotive conductor who reported a work-related injury suffered by a train engineer while they were both traveling between Idaho and Wyoming on July 24, 2009. The injury occurred when the train engineer banged his elbow against a steel armrest that was missing padding. The conductor notified his employer that the armrest was defective and that its hazardous condition caused a fellow employee to be injured. The railroad fired the conductor.
“Retaliating against workers for reporting safety hazards is completely unacceptable and, more importantly, illegal,” said Ikeda. “When workers are discouraged from reporting injuries, the cause of an injury goes uninvestigated and could continue to put other workers at risk.”
OSHA’s investigation found that the conductor was terminated for reporting a work-related injury. The agency has ordered the railroad to pay $150,000 in punitive damages, $87,599 in compensatory damages for emotional distress, $71,708 in back pay with interest and reasonable attorney’s fees to the conductor. Additionally, the railroad was ordered to post a notice to employees about whistle-blower rights.
The Omaha, Neb.-based railroad operates in 23 states and employs more than 40,000 workers nationwide, including an estimated 900 at the Pocatello facility.
OSHA enforces the whistle-blower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.
On July 16, 2012, OSHA and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration signed a memorandum of agreement to facilitate coordination and cooperation for enforcing the FRSA’s whistle-blower provisions. Between August 2007 when OSHA was assigned responsibility for whistle-blower complaints under the FRSA, and September 2012, OSHA received more than ¬¬¬1,200 FRSA whistle-blower complaints. The number of whistle-blower complaints that OSHA currently receives under the FRSA surpasses the number it receives under any of the other 21 whistle-blower protection statutes it enforces, except for Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. More than 60 percent of the FRSA complaints filed with OSHA involve an allegation that a railroad worker has been retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistle-blower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistle-blower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.