Union Pacific Railroad faces penalties of more than $615,000 based on a finding by federal authorities that the company fired two workers, and suspended another, in retaliation for reporting workplace safety concerns and a work-related injury.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration called for Omaha-based Union Pacific to pay $400,000 in punitive damages, $90,315 in compensatory damages, $34,900 in attorney fees and more than $90,000 in back wages to the three workers.
“Workers have the right to report work-related injuries and safety concerns without fear of retaliation,” David Michaels, OSHA’s chief, said in a news release. “Union Pacific Railroad has created a climate of fear instead of a climate of safety.”
Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said the company will appeal. He called the OSHA finding “inconsistent with the facts and ignores provisions of our collective bargaining agreements.”
The company previously was cited by OSHA for retaliating against employees reporting injuries in separate cases last year and earlier this year.
The decision OSHA announced Thursday covered two conductors based in Kansas City, Mo., and a locomotive engineer from Tucson, Ariz.
One of the conductors, the agency found, was fired after making repeated complaints to the company’s hotline about safety concerns, including missing and obstructed roadway signs, and for noting that a supervisor violated safety procedures during a field test. The railroad also cited the conductor for having a tattoo that it deemed as creating a hostile work environment — even though the employee had the tattoo, commemorating his military service, before joining the company in 2004. OSHA called for his reinstatement to his old position.
The other conductor, OSHA said, was suspended without pay from his job for five days after making several complaints to the company’s hotline about rough spots on the track. And the agency said the engineer, a 32-year employee, was fired after reporting a workplace injury.
The OSHA investigation, by the agency’s offices in Kansas City and San Francisco, determined that the company had violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
ROBERT T. NELSON