Rail Conference pushes for stronger whistleblower protections
CLEVELAND, February 5 — Representatives from the Teamsters Rail Conference supported improved whistleblower protections for railroad workers during the final week of January when they spoke before the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee in Washington, D.C.
Vincent Verna, Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and Rick Inclima, Safety Director for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, spoke on behalf of the 70,000-member Teamsters Rail Conference. They were accompanied by BLET Iowa State Legislative Board Chairman Jeff Kurtz.
As part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor, the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee was established to assist OSHA with recommendations to improve the fairness, efficiency, and transparency of whistleblower investigations conducted under Section 20109 of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), and 21 other whistleblower statutes.
The FRSA prohibits railroads from retaliating against employees who report unsafe conditions, accidents and on-the-job injuries. Representatives noted that although some progress has been made, that there is still an ingrained culture of harassment in the railroad industry.
Verna and Inclima outlined how employees are often at a disadvantage when reporting accidents or unsafe conditions, but their position has been improved because of stronger whistleblower protections enforced by OSHA.
“Becoming a whistleblower is a hard decision for our members to make,” Verna said. “A culture of harassment and intimidation by rail carrier management has continued, although it is being weakened daily thanks to OSHA’s enforcement measures.”
When a railroad worker suffers an on-the-job injury, “Lost time, up to and including dismissal, is the penalty,” Inclima said. “Railroad workers know this and they are often intimidated not to report an on-the-job injury due to the certainty that they will be charged and disciplined or dismissed.”
In January, OSHA announced that it had signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co. (BNSF), under which the railroad has agreed to voluntarily revise several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and discouraged workers from reporting on-the-job injuries.
Verna concluded his testimony with the following: “In an effort to reduce unsafe conditions, railroad management should commend whistleblowers as early warning systems who create a safer workplace. A robust system is needed where the messenger is rewarded rather than punished, and where reporting unsafe conditions or actions is seen as routine rather than an act of courage that puts your job on the line. While we believe the law provides our members with excellent protections, the implementation and enforcement of the law, as well as education about the laws protections, remain a mystery to the BLET members who should share full enjoyment of its benefits.”
Dennis R. Pierce, National President of the BLET and President of the Teamsters Rail Conference, thanked Brothers Verna and Inclima for their hard work. President Pierce said the Rail Conference would continue its efforts to educate members about their whistleblower rights and will continue to assist the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee so that railroad employees can fully benefit from the protections afforded by the FRSA.
Click here to read the full text of Verna’s and Inclima’s comments to the Committee:
Tuesday, February 05, 2013