June 26, 2007

CHICAGO (June 26)—The Federal Railroad Administration has ruled that Norfolk Southern Corp. officials violated the Federal Hours of Service Law (HSL) when they detained and interrogated a freight-train conductor after he and his engineer were relieved from a Toledo-Chicago freight train that timed out 38 miles short of its final terminal.

In a May 31 letter to UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, FRA Region IV Administrator Laurence H. Hasvold said the “limbo time” the conductor had accumulated during the March 10 van trip from Northwest Indiana to NS’s 55th Street Yard in Chicago became “commingled time” subject to hours of service when a trainmaster refused to let him go home. Although the conductor had expired under hours of service, the trainmaster impounded him in a closed office and interrogated him without a witness about an alleged incident that happened during the ride back to Chicago.

“FRA considers as commingled service the questioning of the conductor after reaching the 12-hour limit for performing covered service,” Hasvold wrote. “As a result, when the NS supervisors questioned the conductor, all limbo time associated with his service became on-duty time.”

Hasvold’s letter said FRA will request the Office of Chief Counsel to prosecute civil penalties against NS for the violation.

“This is a very important ruling that all our members need to know about so they can seek appropriate action from the union if they become the victims of similar action,” Szabo said.

Szabo pointed out that the Federal Hours of Service Law is very clear about what must happen when a crew goes dead on the law.

“The crew members are considered to be on limbo time while they are being ferried to their final terminal,” he said, “but if the employer for any reason refuses to let the employees leave the property to go home or to their layover lodgings, they are considered to be back in Hours of Service and their limbo time also is added to their Hours of Service.”

Szabo said some railroad supervisors may also have been violating the HSL by ordering employees back to the workplace after they have been transported for medical treatment after an injury.

“The employer may be entitled to get a statement following an accident, but not if the trip to the doctor combined with actual time on duty exceeds 12 hours,” Szabo said.

Szabo advised employees who are illegally detained to politely request to be released under the hours of service, but not to be insubordinate with company managers.

“Never be insubordinate,” he said. “If your train times out and you are not allowed to go directly to your home or lodgings, request to be released, but comply with your supervisor’s instructions and then report the incident to your UTU Local as soon as possible afterwards.”

Once off the property, Szabo said, detained employees should write down as much as they can remember about their detention, including the location, the date, the duration of their detention and the names and titles of the officials involved.

“Just give your Local Chairman or Local Legislative Representative the basic details. They will write up the incident and forward their report to the Chicago office for handling with FRA. As this latest ruling makes clear, when employees speak up, we get results. An informed and active union member is the best tool we have for making sure railroad managers obey the law.”