On August 31, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a decision ordering CSX Transportation Inc. to pay two railroad workers $667,740 for firing them in 2017 after they reported a safety concern. DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) aims “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers,” and OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of 25 whistleblower statutes. An OSHA investigation of this case found that CSX’s firing of the two whistleblowers was illegal.
The two railroad workers were based in Waycross, Georgia, and in 2017, they “encountered and reported a blue flag that signaled their train could not move safely.” After they made their report, CSX “pulled them from the job and later fired them.” CSX Transportation Inc., a subsidiary of CSX Corp, is to pay the employees $667,740 as well as attorney’s fees. “The amount represents back pay from the time of their removal in November 2017 through September 2019, and costs incurred by the workers to include interest on the back wages, penalties on withdrawals from their 401(k), and compensatory and punitive damages,” the news release states.
Additionally, CSX “must restore both workers’ seniority and the benefits they would have received had they not been dismissed.” OSHA also ordered CSX “to provide retirement credit, vacation time and personal leave days that the employees would have earned.”
“All workers have the right to be safe on the job, and by speaking up, these workers prevented potential harm to themselves and others,” said OSHA Acting Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick. “Employers that punish workers for speaking out against unsafe or unfair working conditions are breaking the law, and OSHA will hold them accountable.”
“CSX Transportation violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which gives employees the right to report safety concerns without fear of retaliation,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta. “The employer’s retaliatory actions are illegal, and OSHA is committed to ensuring that workers are protected when they exercise their rights to report workplace hazards.”
The news release notes that “this is the third OSHA whistleblower merit finding in 10 months” regarding CSX retaliating against whistleblowers who brought up concerns about safety. WNN has previously covered DOL decisions involving CSX Transportation Inc. in articles from July 2021 and October 2020. “Similar whistleblower investigations resulted in reinstatements and payment of back wages and damages in the New York area in 2016 and 2010,” the press release states.
On July 29, 2021, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh gave a keynote speech at the National Whistleblower Center’s annual National Whistleblower Day celebration. “I want to be clear: every worker has the right to speak up,” Secretary Walsh said in his speech. “If they’re mistreated, denied their rights, or have concerns about safety. And when an employer retaliates, it’s not only wrong, it’s illegal.”
Secretary Walsh also talked about how important whistleblowers are in the workforce. “They’ve not only protected themselves, they’ve protected their coworkers, and they’ve protected their community. They perform a public service, to prevent wrongdoing from happening again, and we thank them,” Walsh said in his remarks.
Additionally, the DOL was one of the growing number of federal agencies that recognized this year’s National Whistleblower Day. On July 29, several DOL officials authored a blog post for the DOL’s website commemorating the day and celebrating “all of the brave workers…who speak out against unsafe or unfair working conditions.” The DOL also created a new webpage detailing whistleblower protections. The page includes a video of Secretary Walsh’s keynote speech at the National Whistleblower Day celebration.