February 26, 2007

CHICAGO (Feb. 26)—Acting on a UTU complaint, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) investigators have told the union’s Illinois Legislative Board that supervisors at the Chicago Rail Link (CRL) railroad tried to intimidate an injured employee when they warned him not to ask for time off or to use prescription drugs.

In a February 21 letter, FRA Region IV Administrator Laurence H. Hasvold told Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo that his investigators had concluded that CRL “and its officials interfered with the treatment of the injured employee in violation of Federal regulations.”

Specifically, Hasvold pointed out that Paragraph 225.33 of Chapter 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires that railroad managers make a complete and accurate report of all employee injuries.

But that apparently did not happen following an employee injury on the CRL December 7, according to the FRA. Instead, Hasvold said, a superintendent and a trainmaster tried to intimidate the employee into reporting his injuries as less severe than they really were.

Hasvold said the Paragraph 225.33 prohibits railroad managers from using intimidation or threats in order to make an employee misrepresent the seriousness of his injury so the railroad can escape reporting to the FRA.

Instead of complying, the employee immediately complained to the union.

“The employee first became suspicious when both the superintendent and the trainmaster questioned him about whether he understood the difference between a ‘reportable’ and a ‘non-reportable’ injury,” Szabo said. “That always raises a red flag. It means the managers are hoping the injury is not serious enough to merit reporting to the FRA, which records it as part of the carrier’s safety record.”

According to Hasvold, one of the supervisors warned the employee that it wouldn’t “look good” if he received time off or used prescription drugs to treat the injury. Either form of treatment renders an injury reportable to the FRA and becomes part of the carrier’s safety record.

Hasvold said that during a follow-up medical appointment the employee again was visited by a CRL officer and asked whether he understood the consequences of a reportable injury.

“The officer told the employee he would be barred from the CSX railroad, and that the CRL would seek disciplinary action against the employee…” he wrote. “The FRA believes these actions were designed to discourage the employee from obtaining the full benefit of medical treatment, and to intimidate the employee into assuring the injury did not become reportable to the FRA. The FRA feels this constitutes a violation of 49 CFR 225.33…”

“Fortunately, the employee smelled a rat and reported the incident immediately to his General Chairman who in turn informed my office, providing names, dates, time of day and other pertinent information,” Szabo said. “That was exactly the right we to go. The union drafted a complaint to the FRA and got virtually instantaneous turnaround.”

Hasvold told Szabo his office submitted its findings to the FRA’s Chief Counsel in Washington with a recommendation that CRL be fined. He also issued Regional Warning Letters to the CRL officers who committed the offense.

“The outcome of this incident shows that the UTU gets results when our members are careful in documenting the facts and report efforts to intimidate them into foregoing the medical care to which they are entitled,” Szabo said.

“We cannot repeat it too often,” he said: “If you are injured at work, and a railroad official tries intimidate you into weakening or softening the language you use in reporting an accident, be suspicious, as this CRL employee was. If a railroad official tries to get you to switch from a prescription pharmaceutical to an over-the-counter drug, be even more suspicious.

“And be super-suspicious if such pressure is applied to you while you are in pain, while you are being driven to the emergency room, or while you are waiting to see a doctor,” Szabo said. “Don’t let them take advantage of your apprehension or uncertainty about your condition. Don’t let them threaten you with ‘discipline’ or possible loss of your job.

“Finally, if you believe you were pressured to misrepresent the seriousness of your injury, write down as many details as you can remember about your encounter with your supervisors and report the incident to your Local Chairman or the UTU Illinois Legislative Board. We’ll write up a complaint and get it to the FRA immediately.

“As the CRL incident shows, when an employee steps forward and tells his story and provides good documentation, FRA acts and the railroad feels its sting. Don’t let it happen to you, and if it does, don’t keep quiet.”