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OSHA penalizes railroads for alleged retaliatory firings

Keywords: Tags  Union Pacific Railroad, Norfolk Southern Railway, workplace injuries, whistleblower, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Dean Ikeda, Samuel Frizell

NEW YORK — Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Norfolk Southern Railway Co. have been ordered to pay more than $1.43 million after firing employees who reported workplace injuries, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said.

OSHA launched an investigation into Union Pacific Railroad after the company fired a conductor who reported that a train engineer had been injured because of a defective steel armrest, OSHA said. The agency’s investigation found that Union Pacific had retaliated against the conductor for reporting a work-related injury.

"Retaliating against workers for reporting safety hazards is completely unacceptable and, more importantly, illegal," OSHA’s regional administrator in Seattle, Dean Ikeda, said in a statement. "When workers are discouraged from reporting injuries, the cause of an injury goes uninvestigated and could continue to put other workers at risk."

OSHA has ordered the Omaha, Neb.-based company to pay more than $309,000 in back wages, benefits and damages plus interest and attorney’s fees to the conductor.

Ikeda said that three other orders had been issued against Union Pacific in the past 13 months.

Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern Railway has been ordered to pay more than $1.12 million to three employees who were fired after reporting work-related injuries.

OSHA said that a crane operator based in Fort Wayne, Ind., was fired after reporting an eye injury requiring the extraction of a sliver of metal and rust ring from his eye, while a welder and a welder’s helper in western Pennsylvania were fired when they reported injuries sustained in an accident in a company truck. In both incidents, management determined that the workers had made false statements about their injuries, OSHA said.

Norfolk Southern Railway has been penalized six times in the past two years for allegedly violating employee whistleblower rights, according to OSHA documents. "We’ve been having issues with them for a while. There are several cases against them," an OSHA spokesman told AMM.

However, the Norfolk, Va.-based company is appealing the decision regarding the Pennsylvania workers and said that the two sides had exchanged settlement offers and were in the midst of mediation. "Norfolk Southern disagrees with OSHA’s decision, which is the result of a flawed, one-sided procedure in which the railroad was not permitted to question the employees under oath or cross-examine witnesses," the railway said.

Union Pacific could not be reached for comment.

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