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FRA Committee Reviewing Safety Award Criteria
The Federal Railroad Administration has invited BMWE President Mac A. Fleming, along with other representatives of rail labor and representatives of the current Harriman Awards Selection Committee, to participate as a member of a joint committee to discuss possible revision to the Harriman Awards selection criteria. The first meeting was held on August 11 in Washington, DC.

The E. H. Harriman Memorial Safety Awards were founded in 1913 for outstanding performance in railroad safety. Medals are awarded annually to U.S. railroads whose employees have the lowest number of injuries based on information reported by the railroads to the FRA. In addition to playing an important part in recognizing the railroads' safety performance, the foundation has sought to recognize individual workers for their commitment to helping others through unselfish acts to promote safety in the workplace.

In establishing the new joint committee, FRA Associate Administrator George Gavalla said, "the current selection process is intended to serve as a motivational and reward system for the improvement of railroad safety, but it is our view that the process can be substantially improved through the design and application of criteria which will more accurately measure safety and create an atmosphere of trust among all parties."

The goal of the committee will be to reach consensus on a new selection process that will:

  • provide a better measurement of true safety by recognizing that it is more important to prevent a fatality than a minor injury,
  • motivate the industry to concentrate its limited safety resources on the prevention of the more serious injuries and fatalities, and
  • improve the accuracy of injury/illness reporting and widen support for the resulting safety statistical data base.

Over the past decade it has become apparent to the workers and their unions that certain railroads have lost sight of the need to provide a safe workplace and placed unwarranted emphasis on winning the Harriman Award. This attitude change is so pronounced that railroad management speak harshly to their workers about the employer's intent to improve their safety ranking in relation to the Harriman Awards.

Railroads have made a mockery of their safety programs by seeking to intimidate the workers. Workers have been disciplined and dismissed because of their injuries and threatened with dismissal if they report injuries. Supervisors have been demoted if injuries are reported and have received bonuses or are promoted if they are not.

For these reasons, the BMWE has continually protested to the FRA and with nine other rail unions wrote the Harriman Award Selection Committee asking that they revise their selection criteria.

The BMWE has also picketed the Harriman awards ceremony and several years ago, BMWE General Chairman Paul Beard established the Harassment Award "in tribute to the outstanding work in the field of falsifying the reporting of employee injuries. Through firings, threats of firings, investigations, discipline and other forms of intimidation, Norfolk Southern Railroad managed to have the lowest incidence of reported employee injuries of any carrier in the United States." Norfolk Southern has taken the top Harriman Award for the last ten years.

In partial response, the FRA tightened up its accident reporting requirements in January 1997. One of the most significant features of its newly amended rules is the prohibition against harassment and intimidation.

Union Pacific Railroad -- which endured a lengthy investigation by the FRA due to the significant increase in the number of fatalities and serious injuries after its takeover of Southern Pacific -- established in 1997 a Safety Assurance and Compliance Partnership (SACP). The mission statement of SACP is: "Establishment of a partnership between rail labor, the Union Pacific Railroad and the FRA to identify and resolve mutual safety concerns and establish a positive safety culture."

In their "employee empowerment process" Union Pacific has stated that "intimidation, discrimination or harassment by any Union Pacific employee will not be tolerated. This means all officers, supervisors, managers and employees."

In a March 30, 1999 letter to all UP employees, UP SACP said "we are recommitting Union Pacific to the empowerment process" meaning "no employee will be required to perform any unsafe act including any violations of law or Union Pacific rules" and "no employee will be disciplined, discriminated against or harassed as the result of their decision to empower themselves regarding safety issues that directly compromise personal safety."

Noting the FRA's "strong leadership role when Union Pacific was experiencing safety and service problems in the wake of its takeover of Southern Pacific," the Rail Labor Division of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department wrote the FRA on July 29, 1999, to express rail labor's deep concerns "regarding the safety crisis that is emerging on Norfolk Southern."

"As you are aware," RLD said, "a number of recent incidents have occurred on NS that clearly demonstrate that the carrier is having serious problems digesting Conrail and that these problems are threatening the safety of the thousands of workers represented by our affiliated unions.

"We need only look at the July 1 collision of an unregulated van shuttling NS railroad workers with a train traveling 60 mph to see what can happen when a carrier struggles to operate over new and expanded territory. This tragedy, which killed two of the van occupants and seriously injured the two others, is not the first time unregulated vans have been the center of a major accident. In fact your agency highlighted the problem on NS earlier this year."

The letter concluded by again urging the FRA "to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the nation's rail transportation system is as safe as possible."

In a similar letter to NS CEO David R. Goode, the RLD demanded a meeting without delay "to address these critical concerns and to immediately take appropriate actions to protect the lives of our members."

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