A recent article published by a nonprofit news outlet provides a glimpse into the railroad safety culture and a system predicated on the intimidation and harassment of anyone who dares to slow down the profit machine that makes up America’s class 1 freight railroads. The investigative report simply confirms what most railroad workers already know: railroads don’t practice what they preach when it comes to safety.
The article provides real life examples of the blatant disregard for safety in the railroad industry and how upper management uses scare tactics to discourage workers from reporting safety concerns. For example, one employee, a car inspector for Union Pacific, described being scolded by his superiors for hampering the yard’s ability to move trains on time. After he flagged a 40-pound GPS box that was hanging by a cable off the side of a car because he worried it could fall on a colleague’s head or go hurling into a driver’s windshield, his boss greenlighted the car to leave anyway stating “I’m trying to save your freaking jobs.” The message was clear, if he continued to hurt productivity by flagging safety defects, he’d be punished or fired.
While horrible tragedies such as the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine help bring the importance of railroad safety to the attention of the American public, little is done to effectuate real change. The problem is that the railroad industry only truly cares about one thing: profits. To get the most money out of every minute, these companies will go to dangerous lengths to avoid disruptions — even skirting vital safety protocols. They typically utilize performance-pay systems that penalize supervisors for taking the time to fix hazards and pressure them to threaten and fire the very workers they hired to keep their operations safe.
Regulators say they can’t stop the pervasive intimidation that quashes dissent and discourages workplace safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which enforces workplace whistleblower laws, has proven to be ineffectual in punishing and/or deterring this type of behavior. Its investigations take too long and often result in minimal consequences for the bad actors. Investigations into anti-safety practices revealed that companies retained and even promoted supervisors who were found to have wrongfully terminated employees.
If you’ve been harmed due to a railroad safety violation, please don’t hesitate to contact Doran & Murphy today.