OSHA orders Norfolk Southern to pay, reinstate 3
The railroad said it plans to appeal the ruling about three workers whom it terminated.
Associated Press | File January
A Norfolk Southern engine sits in a rail yard in Hopewell, Va. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Norfolk Southern Corp. to pay more than $1 million to three workers in Indiana and Pennsylvania who were fired after they reported on-the-job injuries.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Norfolk Southern Corp. to pay more than $1 million to three workers in Indiana and Pennsylvania who were fired after they reported on-the-job injuries.
The Norfolk-based railroad operator said it plans to appeal.
The order stems from investigations by OSHA that found the company wrongfully fired a crane operator based in Fort Wayne, Ind., and a thermite welder and a welder's helper in Pennsylvania, according to a U.S. Department of Labor announcement Thursday.
The announcement said Norfolk Southern violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act's whistleblower provisions. In addition to paying compensation, Norfolk Southern also was ordered to expunge the workers' disciplinary records, train employees on their whistleblower protection rights, and post a notice regarding these rights.
OSHA has issued similar orders in several other whistleblower cases against Norfolk Southern in the past two years.
"The Labor Department continues to find serious whistleblower violations at Norfolk Southern, and we will be steadfast in our defense of a worker's right to a safe job - including his or her right to report injuries," acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris said in a prepared release.
"When workers can't report safety concerns on the job without fear of retaliation, worker safety and health suffer, which costs working families and businesses alike."
Norfolk Southern strenuously disagrees with OSHA's decisions in the cases announced Thursday and will appeal them, company spokesman Robin Chapman said. The rulings OSHA announced Thursday were reached during what Chapman called "a flawed, one-sided procedure in which the railroad was not permitted to question the employees under oath or cross-examine witnesses."
The railroad's appeal, he said, will effectively void OSHA's initial determination and direct the parties to start over "under normal legal proceedings," Chapman said.
The railroad has appealed other adverse initial determinations in similar cases in which OSHA found employees were fired for reporting workplace injuries, Chapman said. Six appeals have been decided, four in the railroad's favor and two in the litigants' favor with the damage awards reduced, he said.
In the latest case, OSHA's initial determination found that a crane operator whom the railroad determined made false statements about an eye injury "would not have been terminated if he had not reported the injury," labor officials said in a release.
OSHA ordered the railroad to pay the worker $437,592 in compensatory and punitive damages, back wages, back benefits and other compensation. The railroad was ordered to reinstate the worker to his job with seniority, vacation and sick days and cover the worker's attorney fees, the labor department news release said.
Also in the latest case, a thermite welder and a welder's helper based in western Pennsylvania - who had both worked at the railroad at least 36 years "without incident" - told the company they were hurt in a traffic crash while driving a company vehicle, the release said. Another vehicle set the crash in motion by running a red light, the release said.
The workers at first reported only minor shoulder area pain, stiffness and soreness and declined medical care when questioned by company management, but they later felt worse and received treatment at a hospital, the release said. Railroad management found the workers made false and conflicting statements that amounted to misconduct and fired them, the release said.
OSHA found "that the employees were terminated for reporting injuries to management" and ordered the railroad to pay the two workers $683,508 in compensatory and punitive damages, back wages, back benefits and compensation for out-of-pocket costs, the release said. In addition, the company was ordered to cover these workers' attorney fees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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