July 17, 2007
CHICAGO (July 17)—Acting on a complaint by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board, the Federal Railroad Administration has found the Alton & Southern Railway (ALS) guilty of trying to intimidate a switchman who planned to see his physician about an injury he suspected he might have suffered at the carrier’s yard in East St. Louis.
Although no injury was ever diagnosed, FRA Region VI Administrator D.J. Tisor told Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo in a July 3 letter that an ALS trainmaster violated Part 235 of the Code of Federal Regulations when he threatened a switchman with unspecified consequences if he consulted a physician.
The UTU complaint stemmed from an incident that occurred March 9, 2007, when the locomotive on which the switchman was working was impacted and coupled to by a cut of cars being shoved by another yard job.
Although no derailment occurred and no damage or injuries were reported following the hard coupling, it was reported that when the switchman and his engineer were turning in their remote-control boxes at the end of the shift, the trainmaster told him, “Don’t you go home and be hurt tomorrow, because this could get ugly.”
The UTU complaint alleged that the trainmaster threatened the switchman again March 25 when he attended a pre-work briefing along with his conductor and a student trainee. According to the UTU complaint and the two witnesses, he told the trainee, “Watch him, because I don’t trust him.” When the switchman asked the trainmaster, “Where did that come from and what did I do to make you feel like you cannot trust me?”—the trainmaster replied, “Nothing, yet.”
The switchman said he believed the trainmaster was referring to the possibility that an upcoming visit scheduled with his doctor might result in the diagnosis of an injury in connection with the March 9 hard-coupling incident.
“Investigation of alleged violation of Title 49 CFR Section 225.33, that portion dealing with harassment and intimidation, found ALS violations did occur on March 9, 2007, and March 25, 2007, when the trainmaster made statements calculated to discourage or prevent an employee from receiving proper medical treatment,” Tisor wrote. He added: “The findings of this investigation will be forwarded to our Office of Chief Counsel with a recommendation for civil penalties [fines].
Szabo said the quick resolution of this complaint shows that the system works when members exercise their rights.
“Federal law protects railroad employees against managers who use intimidation to discourage the reporting of injuries, but that protection is not activated until an employee steps forward and informs his union,” he said. “It is very likely that the Alton & Southern will be fined as a result of this incident.”
Szabo said members who feels that a superior used intimidation or harassment in order to prevent the reporting of an injury, or to reduce the perceived severity of an injury, or to prevent an employee from seeking or receiving medical treatment, should immediately report the incident to the local chairman or legislative representative.
“As soon as the incident is over, try to note down the critical details on paper—the time, date and place, the language the supervisor used, and the names of any witnesses,” Szabo said. “Then furnish the basic details to your local and we’ll handle the formalities in Chicago. The system works—but only if you work it.”