Grand Trunk Western Railway Co. and Union Pacific have been ordered by OSHA to pay back wages to five suspended, injured employees after an OSHA whistleblower investigation.
OSHA found Grand Trunk Western Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad Co. in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) for suspending and/or disciplining five workers following the reporting of workplace injuries or illnesses. The workers found themselves disciplined and suspended from one to 60 days without pay after they reported injuries or illnesses.
“When employees are disciplined for reporting workplace injuries, safety concerns or illnesses, worker safety and health are clearly not the company’s priority,” said Nick Walters, OSHA’s regional administrator in Chicago. “More than 60 percent of the FRSA complaints filed with OSHA against railroad companies involve an allegation that a railroad worker has been retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury. This is unacceptable and a culture that must be changed.”
The department has ordered the companies to pay back wages, along with interest, punitive and compensatory damages, and attorney's fees. The companies will also be required to remove disciplinary information from the employees' personnel records and must provide whistleblower rights information to workers.
OSHA has ordered Grand Trunk Western Railway Co., a subsidiary of the Canadian National Railway, to pay four workers a total of $85,580:
- A building and bridge carpenter will receive $29,671 in lost wages, less employment taxes, $2,119 in lost vacation pay and $10,000 in punitive and compensatory damages. OSHA’s investigation upheld his allegations that he was suspended for 20 days after reporting a workplace injury that occurred in South Bend, Ind., in December 2011.
- A conductor will receive $29,671 in lost wages, less employment taxes, $2,119 in lost vacation pay and $10,000 in punitive and compensatory damages. He received a 60-day suspension from work after reporting a workplace injury that occurred in Lansing, Mich., in November 2011.
- Another conductor working in Pontiac, Mich., can expect $1,500 in punitive and compensatory damages and no loss of wages after the employee was issued a 45-day suspension, which has not been served, for taking unauthorized leave in June and July 2012 for ongoing medical treatment. OSHA’s finding upheld that the medical treatment should have been an excused absence.
- Additionally, a conductor working in Battle Creek, Mich., will receive $500 in punitive damages and one day’s lost wages after he was issued a one-day suspension for reporting a workplace injury in February 2013.
Union Pacific Railroad Co., which was named the most admired among trucking, transportation and logistics companies for the fourth consecutive year by Fortune, has been ordered to pay a brakeman $1,289.68 in lost wages, less employment taxes, and $10,000 in punitive and compensatory damages, along with interest and attorney's fees. OSHA’s investigation upheld the brakeman’s allegation that the railway issued him a one-day suspension and required him to attend remedial simulator training after he was injured by battery acid fumes when investigating a possible fire in the engine room of a train in the Dupo Illinois Yard.
"Union Pacific is proud of our culture that promotes safety and accountability and we disagree with the OSHA finding and plan to appeal the decision," said Mark Davis, spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad.
In the announcement of Union Pacific Railroad’s inclusion on the recent Fortune most-admired list, Union Pacific CEO Jack Koraleski commented, “Every day the men and women of Union Pacific work to provide safe, reliable and efficient transportation solutions that support businesses, communities and the American economy. Union Pacific's ranking as the most admired trucking, transportation or logistics company reaffirms our commitment to creating value for our 10,000 customers in America and abroad.”
Either party in these cases can file an appeal with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.