June 16, 2010

CHICAGO ( June 16)—The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has determined that the Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS) violated the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act when it disciplined, then censured a conductor in reprisal for reporting an on-duty injury.

The railroad was ordered to pay the employee $1,000 in punitive damages and to make other unspecified “amends” to him. The carrier must also post and provide its employees with information on its FRSA Whistleblower rights and within 30 days inform OSHA in writing of the steps it has taken to comply with the order.

The ruling came after the UTU Illinois Legislative Board asked OSHA to investigate the issue, which was brought to the attention of State Director Robert W. Guy in early 2009.

The employee’s UTU local told Guy that the train-service employee, whose identity is being withheld under the federal whistleblower statute, fell on his side and injured himself while on duty with the IAIS.

The report also alleged that IAIS officials attempted to harass and intimidate the employee by subjecting him to discipline for allowing himself to be injured and for reporting his injury and requesting treatment.

“OSHA cited the railroad for harassing this employee twice—first for getting injured and then for reporting it,” Guy said. “This is exactly the kind of managerial misconduct that Congress intended to prevent when it passed the Federal Rail Safety Act in 2008.”

Guy noted that the federal legislation included language similar to what the Illinois Legislative Board had drafted in 2005 for inclusion in the Illinois Railroad Employees Medical Treatment Act, which the General Assembly passed that same year.

A court later overturned the Illinois act on grounds that only the federal government could legislate prompt medical treatment for rail employees. So at the request of the Illinois Legislative Board, U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) inserted language based on the inapplicable Illinois act into the new federal legislation, which passed October 1.

“The 2008 Iowa Interstate incident our union reported was one of the first such complaints brought to OSHA after enactment of the new law,” Guy said.

In a news release following the ruling, OSHA Regional Administrator Michael G. Connors said, “An employer does not have the right to retaliate against its employees who report work-related injuries.” Such retaliation, he said, should be reported to OSHA under the Whistleblower Act, which assures employees anonymity when they report managerial misconduct.

“While OSHA is best known for ensuring the safety and health of employees, it is also a federal government whistleblower protection agency,” Connors said.

Guy praised OSHA for its rapid response in a field where it had not previously been active.

“Even though OSHA previously had limited jurisdiction over railroads,” he said, “its staff was familiar with managerial intimidation of employees in other industries and quickly got to the bottom of what happened to our brother that night.

“We hope incidents of this type do not happen again,” Guy said. “But it’s nice to know that if they do our members will be protected.”