FRA drops hammer on CSXT

WASHINGTON -- CSX Transportation has received the lecture and warning it invited -- from the Federal Railroad Administration, which told CSXT CEO Michael Ward to clean up the carrier's bad acting with regard to intimidation and harassment of injured employees, and to do it pronto or face serious consequences.

Ward has been in denial that his officers and supervisors have created a system-wide chilling culture of harassment and intimation intended to discourage injured CSXT employees from reporting on-duty injuries or from receiving proper medical treatment -- and then retaliating against employees who reported injuries.

UTU general chairpersons, state legislative directors and the UTU National Legislative Office for years have been compiling evidence of such improper treatment of injured employees by CSXT, and sharing that evidence with FRA officials.

Between 2006 and early 2008, the FRA conducted more than 70 separate investigations that led the agency to conclude CSXT is a bad actor on a wide scale, and is guilty as UTU officials repeatedly charged.

On Jan. 16, the FRA had enough of CSXT’s hollow promises to reform.

In a three-page letter addressed to Ward, which reads much like an indictment, the FRA said "the evidence shows CSXT's response has been inadequate. In order to truly prevent any more instances of intimidation, CSXT must put forth a sustained good-faith effort to change its culture."

The letter carried a clear threat -- that the carrier must demonstrate dramatically changed behavior or face issuance by the FRA of a formal compliance order.

A compliance order -- a legally binding document -- would make the FRA a CSXT nanny, requiring Ward to draft, for FRA approval, a remedial action plan whose every element would be subject to FRA oversight. Also, a compliance order would make daily actions of CSXT's officers and supervisors subject to FRA oversight.

A UTU spokesperson told Bloomberg News on Jan. 27 that "CSXT has repeatedly refused, in meetings with UTU officers, to admit this is a long-standing and persistent problem. It is high-time for CSXT to stop playing ostrich, with its head in the sand in regard to employee harassment and intimidation."

UTU International President Mike Futhey praised UTU general chairpersons and local officers on CSXT for their painstaking collection of evidence. "At our regional meetings last year, I promised our members on CSXT that we would not retreat until the problem is solved -- either through voluntary CSXT actions or by a regulatory hammer," Futhey said.

CSXT was last placed under an FRA compliance order -- a rare action by the agency -- on April 20, 2000, after the railroad's efforts to improve track maintenance and safety fell far short of FRA regulatory standards. In 2008, New York State's U.S. senators criticized CSXT safety lapses. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited "a rash of serious accidents with CSX at the helm," and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) cited "a troubling number of derailments in upstate New York."

In the Jan. 16 letter, the FRA told Ward that the agency's "comprehensive audit" of CSXT's accident/incident recordkeeping and reporting "revealed a number of regulatory violations, including the failure to report employee injuries." As for harassment and intimidation, the FRA said CSXT "was not acting in compliance" with existing federal regulations and its own promises to reform.

Said the FRA in its Jan. 16 letter:

"CSXT officers informed injured employees that reportable injuries would be a mark on their personal records and may have an adverse impact on their careers.

"In addition, CSXT officers transported injured employees to CSXT offices following medical treatment for 'fact-finding interviews' in an apparent attempt to deter the reporting of future injuries.

"Furthermore, CSXT officers informed employees that if their injury was reportable to FRA, CSXT would likely require the employee to submit to an alcohol and/or drug test, but if not reported, no such test would be necessary.

"CSXT officers also instructed injured employees to select 'sick' or 'suspended' designations where such employees requested to be 'marked-off' from performing services, improperly recording the employees' lost days.

"[A 2008 FRA investigation] revealed a division-wide practice in which CSXT field officers were requesting to enter and/or entering the treatment rooms of injured employees; [and] following treatment, CSXT managers often transported injured employees to a CSXT office to conduct fact-finding interviews which included three or more carrier officers in the room with the injured employee.

"[The FRA investigation] shed light on continuing widespread harassment and intimidation at CSXT.

"It is clear that CSXT has failed to adequately address its culture of harassment and intimidation [and] the problems previously addressed have not yet been corrected," said the FRA.

The FRA ordered CSXT to advise the FRA, in writing, by Jan. 30, detailed steps the carrier intends to pursue to correct its violations; that CSXT must "put forth a sustained good-faith effort to change" what the FRA called a "chilling" culture.

Click here to read the Jan. 16 FRA letter to CSXT.

FRA says CSX still needs to improve its reporting of injuries

January 28, 2009 BY MARK BASCHSTORY www.

After investigating charges that CSX Corp. discourages workers from reporting injuries, the acting administration of the Federal Railroad Administration said in a letter that the Jacksonville-based railroad “has not made sufficient progress to remediate its culture of harassment and intimidation in connection with injury reporting.”

Although CSX has responded to the charges, FRA acting administrator Clifford Eby said in a Jan. 16 letter to CSX Chairman and CEO Michael Ward that the “response has been inadequate” and the problems have not been corrected. He asked CSX to submit a letter by Jan. 30 detailing the steps the company has taken to correct the problem.

CSX spokesman Gary Sease told Bloomberg News in an e-mail that the company disagrees with some of the FRA’s conclusions and that it will detail the steps it has taken in a response to the FRA.

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