DC Feedback: Protecting workers' rights

Have a question about federal laws, Federal Railroad Administration rules that impact your job, or about pending legislation governing our industry? Send it to:

D.C. Feedback
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers
10 G. Street N.E., Suite 480
Washington, DC 20002

Or you can fax your questions to (202) 347-5237; or via e-mail to: bledc@aol.com.

If the BLE's National Legislative Office does not have the answer on hand (such as a federal interpretation), they'll get back to you as soon as possible. Select questions and answers will be published regularly in the pages of the Locomotive Engineer Newsletter.

This month's installment of DC Feedback deals with current protections for whistle blowers.

Dear Sir and Brother,

In your letter of January 10, 2000, you request answers to the question: "Did President Clinton sign into law that whistle blowers, who report unsafe acts that are sanctioned by the railroad and its officials, can not be fired or disciplined?" The statute you refer to is found in U.S. Code Title 49 Section 20109, it states:

Section 20109. Employee protections

(a) Filing Complaints and Testifying - A railroad carrier engaged in interstate or foreign commerce may not discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee because the employee, whether acting for the employee or a representative, has -

(1) filed a complaint or brought or caused to be brought a proceeding related to the enforcement of this part or, as applicable to railroad safety, chapter 51 or 57 of this title; or

(2) testified or will testify in that proceeding.

(b) Refusing To Work Because of Hazardous Conditions -

(1) A railroad carrier engaged in interstate or foreign commerce may not discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee for refusing to work when confronted by a hazardous condition related to the performance of the employee's duties, if -

(A) the refusal is made in good faith and no reasonable alternative to the refusal is available to the employee;

(B) a reasonable individual in the circumstances then confronting the employee would conclude that -

(i) the hazardous condition presents an imminent danger of death or serious injury; and

(ii) the urgency of the situation does not allow sufficient time to eliminate the danger through regular statutory means; and

(C) the employee, where possible, has notified the carrier of the hazardous condition and the intention not to perform further work unless the condition is corrected immediately.

(2) This subsection does not apply to security personnel employed by the carrier to protect individuals and property transported by the railroad.

(c) Dispute Resolution ­ A dispute, grievance, or claim arising under this section is subject to resolution under section 3 of the Railway Labor Act (45 U.S.C. 153). In a proceeding by the National Railroad Adjustment Board, a division or delegate of the Board, or another board of adjustment established under section 3 to resolve the dispute, grievance, or claim, the proceeding shall be expedited and the dispute, grievance, or claim shall be resolved ­ An employee of a railroad carrier may not seek protection under both this section and another provision of law for the same allegedly unlawful act of the carrier.

(e) Disclosure of Identity ­

(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, or with the written consent of the employee, the Secretary of Transportation may not disclose the name of an employee of a railroad carrier who has provided information about an alleged violation of this part or, as applicable to railroad safety, chapter 51 or 57 of this title or a regulation prescribed or order issued under any of those provisions.

(2) The Secretary shall disclose to the Attorney General the name of an employee described in paragraph (1) of this subsection if the matter is referred to the Attorney General for enforcement.

(Pub.L. 103-272, Sec. 1(e), July 5, 1994, 108 Stat. 867.)

Before taking any action against an employer it is important to document your safety concerns and be prepared to offer witnesses to your actions.

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