Rail workers testify to Congress about on-the-job injury cover ups

Rail union employees from Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern railroads testified on October 25 before a House committee about how their supervisors discouraged them from reporting serious accidents or even delayed treatment for their injuries.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing focused on harassment and intimidation of rail workers. Some railroads coerce employees to not report on-the-job accidents and injuries. Thus, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) may never be notified about a large number of injuries and accidents. As a result, FRA safety statistics may not accurately reflect the number of accidents and injuries in the industry.

"I was struck in the head by a piece of steel on a rail car brought into Kansas City," said Greg Haskins, a former Union Pacific employee. "When I came to, I was lying face down in my own blood. No call to 911 was ever made. No one volunteered to rush me to an emergency room."

Haskins did not receive medical attention for more than two hours. He finally was sent home to take aspirin, his head bandaged. The following day, through intervention of his family, he was seen by a neurological surgeon in Kansas City and diagnosed with Post Concussive Syndrome. Haskins now suffers from depression and other serious medical issues and no longer works on the rails, something that was once his lifelong ambition.

Former Norfolk Southern employee Timothy Knisely testified that when he attempted to disconnect an air hose from a set of rail cars, the hose broke loose, continually striking him in the head, chest, arms and legs with 80 pounds of pressure.

"The trainmaster tried to persuade me to not report the injury," Knisely said. "But I resisted his pressure and reported it. The next day I was charged with making a false report. After 27 years of dedicated and loyal service to the railroad, I was subsequently charged with lying about being struck in the head and eventually fired."

David Cook, a former CSX locomotive engineer and a member of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) Division 769 in Sanford, Florida, also testified about his experiences after being injured on the railroad. In closing his statement, he implored the Committee to ensure that railroad workers are treated better.

"U.S. workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in their workplace and this has not been happening," Cook said. "U.S. railroad companies are guilty as charged based on the clear facts. While the U.S. railroads should continue to educate employees to improve safety, intimidating employees through threats and false FRA test failures is an unacceptable means of creating misleading and faulty safety records."

"Haskins, Knisley and Cook's experiences are just three examples of mistreatment that rail employees are forced to endure," said John Tolman, Vice President and National Legislative Representative of the BLET during testimony. "We are here today to bring experiences like these to light."

Tolman also thanked lawmakers for passage of H.R. 2095, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007.

Included in the bill is a provision that guarantees the right to prompt medical attention and makes it unlawful for a railroad to interfere in the relationship between an injured railroad worker and his or her doctor.

The Teamsters Rail Conference represents more than 70,000 locomotive engineers, trainmen and maintenance of way workers who are members of the BLET and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division. The Teamsters was founded in 1903 and represents more than 1.4 million hard working men and women in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

David Cook, a former engineer and member of Division 769 (Sanford, Fla.), testifies about his experiences after being injured on the railroad.



© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen