November 11, 2002
CHICAGO (Nov. 11)–Acting on a complaint filed by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board, the Federal Railroad Administration has found that the Norfolk Southern Railroad failed to perform required monthly maintenance on a device used to test employees for blood-alcohol level.
The FRA further found that the device had been out of calibration last February when it was used to test a UTU member employed by NS.
In a November 1 letter to Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, FRA Regional Administrator Laurence H. Hasvold said, “FRA will submit violations against the Norfolk Southern Railroad for improperly using an Evidential Breath Test (EBT) machine while it was ‘out of calibration’ for the Confirmation Test and for not performing the required External Calibration Test every thirty (30) days as required by the Operations Manual on both EBTs used in this test in question.”
Hasvold did not disclose the make or model of the device used, nor did he indicate what type of sanction might be applied against the railroad. Violations of FRA rules typically result in a fine.
“The penalty Norfolk Southern pays is not really the issue here,” Szabo said. “The real point is that when employees alert the union to possible misconduct by a railroad, the union can follow up and get results if the allegation is documented.”
Szabo called employee activism a “sleeping giant” that can be very powerful when used constructively.
“Employees never should feel powerless when they sense that management is failing to comply with federal regulations ,” Szabo said. “That’s precisely what unions are here to defend the employees against. The FRA has numerous rules designed to protect employees, and UTU officials are trained to understand and use those rules.
“But all of our training and experience is useless if employee indignation never gets past the grumbling stage,” Szabo said.
“So if you are are subjected to a procedure that is out of compliance, don’t just shake your head and mutter about it in the welfare room. Write down every detail you can recall while the incident is still fresh in your memory. Note the time, date, location, names of persons present, and any circumstances that would help an investigator understand the offense.
“Then turn your notes over to your Local Chairman,” Szabo said. “He’ll write them up and turn them into the Legislative Board, and we’ll turn them into an official complaint. If there’s any basis at all to the allegations, you’ll get results.”