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BLET inks close call reporting agreement with NJT

CLEVELAND, April 8 — An historic agreement was signed on April 3 at New Jersey Transit’s Meadows Maintenance Complex establishing a Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) that will enable operating employees — engineers, conductors, trainmen, yardmasters and train dispatchers — to confidentially report close calls that occur anywhere on the NJ Transit commuter rail system where NJT is responsible for operating the railroad.

The agreement was signed by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), New Jersey Transit, United Transportation Union (UTU), and the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA).

Under this system, close calls that may involve operating rules infractions may be reported by the employee(s) involved to a confidential reporting service, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). Peer Review Teams (PRT) made up of stakeholder representatives will review the incidents and, by consensus, resolve any conflicts over the “close call” status of the report(s). Where an incident is properly reported and credited as a close call, neither FRA nor NJT will be able to take regulatory (e.g., fine) or disciplinary action against the employee(s) involved in the incident, and FRA will not take any action against NJT for any immunity properly extended under this program.

FRA initiated this program out of a desire to gain more accurate knowledge of incidents that occur on railroads with unrealized potential for adverse consequences, so that measures can be taken to create a safer rail workplace. Because of the industry’s historical emphasis on punishment through discipline when rules violations are detected, operating employees have been understandably reluctant to disclose close call incidents, since such self disclosure results in punishment. By offering immunity to the operating employees in exchange for self reporting otherwise undetected close call incidents, a more realistic picture of contemporary railroading practices will emerge, providing a better foundation for making informed decisions regarding proper operating procedures, best practices and general operating standards.

“The labor versus management bunker mentality that plagues the rail industry is largely a function of the traditional discipline process, which polarizes the parties,” BLET National President Ed Rodzwicz said.

While the industry periodically attempts to re-brand the discipline process with purportedly ‘kindler, gentler’ versions, the ‘new’ processes inevitably devolve into a streamlined version of the old. Waivers for insignificant incidents that were supposed to be handled informally are often used to build records on employees faster and more efficiently by overly zealous, quota driven line supervisors.

“NJT and FRA have taken a very bold step in agreeing to reject the industry discipline template by granting immunity for a broad range of incidents, and joined with BLET, ATDA, and UTU to institute meaningful culture change,” President Rodzwicz said.

BLET was represented in the negotiations by NJ Transit General Chairman Rich Darcy, who was assisted by; Division 171 Local Chairman T.E. Foran Jr.; Division 53 Local Chairman Brian Gilmartin; Division 272 Local Chairman Dave Decker; Division 373 Local Chairman Jim Brown; and assigned VicePresident Marcus Ruef.

VP Ruef said that BLET Director of Research Tom Pontolillo deserves credit for the negotiation of the Close Call Agreement and also noted that now retired Regulatory Research Coordinator Bob Harvey had a lot of input in the beginning phases of designing the concept.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
bentley@ble-t.org

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