Federal safety regulators this week slammed Union Pacific Railroad for its “culture of retaliation,” demonstrated by its repeated safety violations and attempts to silence whistleblowers who report workplace injuries or seek medical attention.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said that Union Pacific violated the Federal Railroad Act for the third time since 2011 by disciplining employees at its rail yard in North Platte, Neb., for exercising their rights to report workplace hazards and seek medical attention for on-the-job injuries.
OSHA also said Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific has faced more than 200 whistleblower complaints from its workers throughout the United States.
In the most recent case, OSHA investigators determined that Union Pacific retaliated against a locomotive freight engineer after he reported injuries he sustained in a December 2013 collision and sought medical treatment for those injuries.
OSHA ordered Union Pacific to pay the engineer $350,000 in punitive and compensatory damages and reasonable attorney’s fees, remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record, and provide information about whistleblower rights to all its employees. Prior to this incident, the employee had never been disciplined in more than three decades as a Union Pacific employee.
“It is disheartening that this employee, a loyal railroad worker for 35 years, faced disciplinary action because he sought needed medical attention for a work-related injury, said Marcia Drumm, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo. “Union Pacific’s actions and the repeated complaints filed by their employees are indicative of a culture that doesn’t show that same loyalty to their workers or concern for their safety,” se added.
Union Pacific Corporation is one of the leading transportation companies in the U.S. Its principal operating company, Union Pacific Railroad, is North America’s largest railroad franchise with operations in 23 states across the western two-thirds of the United States.
U.S. labor laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who raise various concerns about workplace safety and other work-related matters to their employer or to the government.
“Whistleblower protections play an important role in keeping workplaces safe,” Administrator Drumm said. “It is not only illegal to discipline an employee for reporting an injury and seeking medical attention, it puts everyone at risk.”