August 4, 2006
CHICAGO (Aug. 4)—What should you do if a supervisor pressures you to ignore an operating rule or Federal Regulation?
Simple, says UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo: Comply with the rule or regulation, then report the matter to the UTU Illinois Legislative Board.
“When it comes to rules compliance or compliance with the FRA regulations, there is only one approach that works in 100 per cent of cases,” Szabo said: “Comply. Comply. Comply. Total adherence to the rules is the single most effective way to protect your safety and protect your job.”
“We often we hear the stories of supervisors pressuring crews to bend the rules, only to later hold the employee accountable when FRA shows up for an audit,” said Szabo. “Because some carriers award managers bonuses for improving the productivity of a yard, ambitious managers sometimes “suggest” that an employee cut corners to speed up throughput and reduce dwell time at yards and stations.
“Don’t take the bait,” said Szabo. “The supervisor isn’t going to split his productivity bonus with an employee.”
In addition to risking injury or a suspension, violating an operating rule can have a more serious consequence – a personal liability judgment from FRA, Szabo said.
“The Federal Railroad Administration is holding crew members personally liable if those individuals are caught violating operating rules,” Szabo said. “Sadly, in many of these cases the employee was doing little more than what the carrier had subtly asked him to do with a little wink and a nod.”
Recently the FRA has been monitoring operations in Illinois to ensure sufficient hand brakes are tied down on unattended cuts of cars.
“We had one case where the carrier has been inconsistent with its training and supervision on this matter – sometimes directly ordering crews to leave unattended cuts of cars without tying any hand brakes,” Szabo said. “Yet during a recent FRA compliance audit when a switchman did exactly what he had been supervised to do, he was cited for personal liability by FRA.”
Szabo said he understands that employees are often in situations where it is difficult to contest a supervisor’s order or subtle pressure.
“Many supervisors may imply to an employee that his job will be endangered or he may be subject to discipline for “insubordination” if he or she fails to carry out an order to ignore a rule,” Szabo said.
“Never be insubordinate,” he said. “If directly ordered, comply with the order and contact my office in Chicago and inform me of all of the details of the incident. We will bring the matter before the FRA immediately.”
“But it pays to know your rules and know them well,” he said.
“Usually if challenged by an employee with a good knowledge of his rule book most supervisors will back down. But again, even in these cases, if you feel you’ve been ‘pressured’ to expedite a move in violation, write up the facts and report it to me.
“There’s an old saying: ‘Every rule is written in somebody’s blood,’” Szabo said. “Rules compliance is about making sure you go home safely every night. Protect yourself; do the right thing on every move, every day. And if somebody takes exception, write it up to me.”