President Obama’s worker-friendly Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently ruled that Norfolk Southern (NS) violated employee whistleblower protection rights in three separate cases, and that NS would have to reinstate the fired workers and pay punitive and compensatory damages amounting to more than $800,000.
OSHA has pursued similar enforcement actions against Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Metro North Commuter Railroad.
Click here to see the OSHA release detailing these actions.
OSHA is aggressively enforcing the whistleblower protection amendments to the Federal Railroad Safety Act passed in 2007 and 2008. The Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”) was amended in 2007 to transfer authority for railroad worker whistleblower protections to OSHA. The FRSA was again amended in 2008 by the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which specifically prohibited discipline of employees for requesting medical treatment.
OSHA’s whistleblower protection program provides an avenue of redress for workers punished for suffering or reporting injuries.
OSHA is part of the Department of Labor (DOL). These enforcement efforts by OSHA reflect the sea change at the Department of Labor since the election of President Obama and his appointment of TCU’s long time friend Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor.
Where the DOL under President Bush’s Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao considered its main mission to harass and audit unions, President Obama’s DOL has restored the agency to its historic purpose: to protect workers’ interests, and to empower unions to protect those interests.
The whistleblower protection efforts by OSHA are just one example of the pro-worker, pro-union culture at the DOL.
Under President Bush’s administration, OSHA was a laughing stock. The political appointees who ran the Agency “ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure”, according to a detailed report published in 2008.
“The legacy of the Bush Administration was one of dismal inaction,” according to a leader of the American Public Health Association.
This all changed with the election of President Obama.
“For years we have fought against railroads that punish employees for reporting injuries,” says TCU President Bob Scardelletti. “Now we have an ally in the Obama Administration. OSHA’s aggressive efforts to assess punitive damages against offending railroads will help us put a stop to this despicable practice.”
Scardelletti adds, “Keeping OSHA strong and effective is just one more reason for every worker to vote for the reelection of President Obama. There is no doubt that if Romney wins, he will return OSHA to the ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ days of the Bush Administration, just as he would eliminate 60/30 retirement and occupational disability. The stakes in the coming election could not be higher.”