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Fired, Injured RR Workers to Get $1.1M

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

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Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has been ordered to pay more than $1.1 million and clear the records of three employees, including a bridge worker, whom it allegedly fired after they were injured on the job.

An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that the railway violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act by terminating the employees, in Pittsburgh and Chicago, for reporting their injuries to Norfolk Southern management.

Norfolk Southern has been the target of similar federal enforcement actions in the last two years. OSHA said the company “continues to retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries, and these actions have effectively created a chilling effect in the railroad industry.”

Norfolk Southern
Photos: Norfolk Southern

"The Labor Department continues to find serious whistleblower violations at Norfolk Southern," said Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris.

‘Serious Whistleblower Violations’

Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris said in a statement: "The Labor Department continues to find serious whistleblower violations at Norfolk Southern, and we will be steadfast in our defense of a worker's right to a safe job – including his or her right to report injuries.”

The company did not respond Tuesday (March 5) to a request for comment.

OSHA ordered Norfolk Southern to reimburse the employees a total of $1,121,900 in pay; reinstate them with their previous seniority; expunge any relevant work records; and pay any attorneys’ fees. The company must also post notices regarding employees’ federal whistleblower protection rights and train workers in these rights.

Fired after Eye Injury

One OSHA investigation involved a crane operator based in Fort Wayne, IN, who suffered a sliver of metal and rust ring in his eye while he was working on a bridge-building project. The metal had to be extracted.

The company then removed the worker from his job and fired him in August 2010 after “an internal investigation determined he had made false statements concerning the injury,” OSHA found.

The employee had to cash in personal savings bonds before their maturity date to pay expenses after he was fired, OSHA said.

The agency said its investigation "concluded that the worker would not have been terminated if he had not reported the injury.”

OSHA ordered Norfolk Southern to pay that employee a total of $437,591.70: $100,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering; $175,000 in punitive damages; $156,518.94 in back wages and benefits; and $6,072.76 to cover the penalties he paid on the savings bonds. The employee will also be paid for vacation and sick days he would have earned.

Norfolk Southern

Tunneling on Norfolk Southern's Heartland Corridor project began in 2007 and was completed in September 2010. The project raised vertical clearances in 28 tunnels.

After 36 Years, Accused of Misconduct

OSHA's second investigation involved a thermite welder and a welder's helper based in western Pennsylvania. Both employees had worked at the railroad for more than 36 years without incident when they were riding in a company truck that was struck in a chain collision triggered by another vehicle that had run a red light, OSHA said.

The employees were stiff and sore and initially declined treatment. Later, however, they were treated at a local hospital. After that, they were removed from their jobs and fired, OSHA found.

“Management concluded that the employees' reports about their condition were false and conflicting and constituted misconduct,” the agency said. “OSHA's investigation found that the employees were terminated for reporting injuries to management.”

The railroad was ordered to pay those employees a total of $683,508: $300,000 in punitive damages; $233,508 in lost wages, benefits, out-of-pocket costs, and interest; and $150,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering.

Protecting Railroad Workers

The Federal Railroad Safety Act protects employees who report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in other protected activities.

The number of whistleblower complaints that OSHA currently receives under the Railroad Safety Act surpasses the number it receives under any of the other 21 whistleblower protection statutes it enforces except for its general whistleblower provision.

Norfolk Southern

OSHA receives more whistleblower complaints under the Railroad Safety Act than from any other industry. Most allege  firings for having reported injuries to management.

More than 60 percent of the FRSA complaints filed with OSHA involve an allegation that a railroad worker has been retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. is a major transporter/hauler of coal and other commodities, serving every major container port in the eastern United States with connections to western carriers.

Based in Norfolk, Va., the company operates 20,000 route miles and employs more than 30,000 union workers worldwide.

The company has 30 days to appeal the decision.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Health and safety; OSHA; Rail; Worker training; Workers

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