The railroad resists joining the safety hotline because it wants to be able to discipline workers

OMAHA, Nebraska (AP) — Major freight railroads say a dispute over whether they will be allowed to discipline some workers who use a state hotline to report safety concerns has prevented them from following through on a promise they made in March to join the program after a Ohio fiery derailment Demands calls to repairs.

Unions and workplace safety experts say the idea of ​​disciplining workers who report safety concerns defeats the purpose of such a hotline because workers would not use it if they feared reprisals. Programs like this one that are overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration are especially important in an industry like the railroads where there is long history Experts say that of workers are being fired for reporting safety violations or injuries.

“Their opposition to this hotline – which only serves to further protect the public and workers – is just part of a decades-old effort to suppress reporting of injuries and risks so that they can appear to the public and regulators as safer than they are now,” he said. Debbie Berkowitz, who was a senior OSHA official during the Obama administration. “I mean, that’s what this is about.”

But the president of the American Railroad’s trade group, Ian Jeffries, said Thursday in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that the rail concern was the potential for abuse of the system by workers trying to avoid discipline by actually reporting rail stops. He knows about the hotline.

Hotline rules will provide immunity to workers who report any unsafe conditions that the railroad is not aware of. But the railroad wants the right to be able to discipline workers in other situations.

“The crux of the current dispute rests on a nuance: situations where the employer is aware of a safety breach without any report to the employee — referred to as a “known event” — but the employee reports the event anyway, thus avoiding discipline,” Jeffries said.

For years, all major freight rail lines have resisted joining the safety hotline because of this concern and because they believed their internal reporting systems were sufficient. But rail unions have consistently said workers are reluctant to use rail safety hotlines because they fear reprisals.

Amtrak and dozens of smaller railroads use the GRP, but none of the large freight railroads has signed up to it.

The rail trade group said a similar safety hotline used in the airline industry allows workers to be disciplined if they report the same safety breach more than once over a five-year period. The railway wants a similar rule for its industry because “most if not all “close contact” incidents result from employees not adhering to applicable safety rules set by their employer, creating dangerous situations whose consequences were narrowly avoided, Jeffreys said.

The railway unions resent the idea that the workers are the problem. Vince Verna of the Union of Locomotive Engineers and Train Workers said it was clear that firing more workers would not solve all safety problems in the industry. Rail safety was a main concern at the national level since a Southern Norfolk train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3.

“This is really old and tired rhetoric blaming the worker for the inherent failures of all complex systems. It is precisely the worker blaming that drives the workers,” said Verna, who serves on the committee of labor groups, railroads and safety regulators who have been trying to find a way to make this program work since Jeffreys. to not report unsafe conditions in the workplace.” She announced that the railway would sign it, and that group was scheduled to meet again next week.

That argument is a classic tactic, said Berkowitz, a former OSHA official who is now a professor at Georgetown University.

“Dangerous companies always try to blame all the unsafe conditions on the workers – that is, they are the unsafe workers – when the statistics are really clear that it is the unsafe conditions that cause almost all injuries,” she said.

Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Warren Flatow said it was clear the railroad needed to do more to make good on its promise to join the Safety Reporting Program that would give workers several ways to report concerns, including an online option and a form. Old fashioned fillable print. unknown.

Federal Railways Administration chief Amit Bose told all of the railways’ chief executives in a letter earlier this week that he believes participation in the program “will play a critical role in reducing risks across the overall railway operating environment.”

Just last week, the Department of Transportation Trade’s coalition of all rail unions sent letters to the chief executives of Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CPKC, Canadian National and CSX urging them to follow through on their commitments to joining the government’s transit support hotline. Help prevent another aberration like that It generated a poisonous black plume of smoke in East Palestine, Ohio, and forced thousands to evacuate their homes.

“Current federal data shows that approximately every three hours, there is a reportable injury. Approximately every eight hours, there is a derailment amounting to a reported damage of $11,500,” said Greg Regan, chair of the Transportation Trade Coalition. There could be another East Palestine three times each day, but we believe that this program can help mitigate such future disasters.

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