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Rails to scrap controversial safety award

UTU reports................................

It has taken more than a decade for railroads to connect the dots and recognize that their annual Harriman Safety Award contest, which tied managerial bonuses to low reportable injury rates among workers, was creating an unfortunate incentive for supervisors to intimidate and harass workers not to report minor on-duty injuries.

This week, the Association of American Railroads said it would send to the dust bin of history that controversial annual safety award.

Indeed, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) observed in 2011 that one railroad’s culture of intimidation and harassment permitted that railroad to “maintain the appearance of an exemplary safety record.” Of another railroad, OSHA said that the carrier had “created a climate of fear instead of a climate of safety,” and that the railroad “must take immediate steps to change this unacceptable pattern of retaliation.”

For years, the UTU collected file drawers full of verified complaints from members of carrier intimidation and harassment following an on-duty injury. An attempt was made – in collaboration with the Federal Railroad Administration – to convince railroads to change the formula for judging carrier safety records so as to discourage employee intimidation and harassment.

When that effort failed, the UTU turned to Congress — the result being a section of the Federal Rail Safety Act of 2007.

The law’s purpose is to protect rail workers from retaliation and threats of retaliation when they report injuries, report that a carrier violated safety laws or regulations, or if the employee refuses to work under certain unsafe conditions or refuses to authorize the use of any safety related equipment.

The law also prohibits an employer from disciplining an employee for requesting medical or first-aid treatment, or for following a physician’s orders, a physician’s treatment plan, or medical advice.

Following passage of the law, and with assistance of UTU Designated Legal Counsel, evidence of intimidation and harassment of workers by railroads was delivered to OSHA, which began imposing significant fines and punitive damages.

The AAR said, in announcing cancellation of the Harriman award beginning in 2013, that “a yet-to-be-determined program” will be created in its place to “encourage the sharing of best rail-safety practices across the industry.”

Said UTU National Legislative Director James Stem: “We congratulate the industry for moving in the right direction. A much less controversial process — one by which labor, management and our suppliers agree rewards safe operations – will benefit the entire industry. We look forward to turning the page and working positively with the industry in this effort.”

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