January 14, 2010

CHICAGO (Jan. 14)—The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has told the UTU it will recommend that the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) be fined for knowingly ordering a switchman to operate a Remote Controlled Locomotive (RCL) without first undergoing a federally mandated hearing and vision acuity exam.

In a letter to UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy, FRA Regional Administrator D.J. Tisor said that the agency had investigated and confirmed the union’s Oct. 21, 2009 Complaint that TRRA had violated the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

“…TRRA was in violation of Title 49 CFR Section 240.203 (a) (2) as a result of the switchman training and operating an RCL prior to receiving a hearing and vision acuity exam,” Tisor wrote.

Guy said the Complaint was filed after UTU General Chairman David Weir, Jr. had learned that the TRRA had required employee O.A. Roman to operate an RCL despite knowing that Brother Roman’s RCL license had expired and he was due for an updated hearing and vision test.

The FRA found that while Roman was in “training status”, which allowed him to operate the RCL without a current license under the supervision of TRRA management, he still needed the hearing and visual exam to be compliant.

“Controlling a powerful machine from a position on the ground presents additional safety challenges that cannot be ignored,” Guy said. “Accurate vision and hearing are essential not only for the safety of the operator but for the safety of other crew members working at distant locations.”

Guy said Brother Roman was “absolutely right” to bring this violation to the attention of his local union leadership, “He felt that something wasn’t quite right when he was required to work an RCL assignment knowing that his license had expired and thus was lacking the updated exam,” Guy said, adding:

“Union leadership cannot originate safety complaints and seek enforcement without input from the members who do the work,” Guy said. “It’s a ‘bottom-up” system in which violations are spotted by the members and fed upward to the Illinois Legislative Board for handling with the proper enforcement authorities, such as the FRA. Member involvement and member activism are the heart and soul of what we do.”

Guy said a member need not know state and federal regulations chapter and verse in order to launch a complaint.

“That’s our job at the Board,” he said. “We can check the laws and regulations to see whether a practice you witnessed is a violation. If it’s not, we’ll tell you. If it is, we’ll take it to the next level with a Formal Complaint, get it stopped, and get the carrier penalized.

“But we can’t do any of that without member input,” he said. “If something doesn’t seem right, document the details when it is safe to do so and forward them to your local leadership or my office. We’ll review the issue and, if necessary, forward it to the appropriate agency for handling.”