UP fined in federal safety case

February 23, 2017 GMT

Railroad may appeal OSHA’s ruling for two of its employees

The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a ruling against Union Pacific Railroad and fined the company $20,000 in punitive damages, as well as $5,000 in compensatory damages.

The investigation found reasonable cause that UP violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act in a case that occurred on Nov. 20, 2015.

Locomotive engineer Mike Fletcher, of Maxwell, and conductor Todd Krekovich, of North Platte, were taken out of service and escorted from the office of Jeff Everett, UP’s director of transportation services. Fletcher then “filed a complaint with the Secretary of Labor alleging [UP] had retaliated against him in violation of FRSA,” according to the OSHA report.

Fletcher and Krekovich each were awarded $10,000 in punitive damages and $2,500 each for compensatory damages. UP also must pay their legal costs.

ADVERTISEMENT

Union Pacific is considering an appeal, a company spokewoman said.

Krekovich and Fletcher had been assigned on a freight train from North Platte to Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Nov. 20, 2015. During their pre-departure inspection, the crew members realized the engine cab seats were loose and unstable, according to OSHA documents.

They immediately notified UP management. The manager discussed the situation with the crew and agreed the seats were loose. After calling his superiors in the superintendent’s office, he returned to the engine cab and ordered the crew to take the train “as is.”

Fletcher asked if the defective seats could be switched with two other seats in the second engine unit. The supervisor denied that request. Fletcher then asked if they could switch the engine itself with the second engine and again was told it could not be switched.

Krekovich, having been a rules training instructor for the UP, realized the situation could cost him his job, according to a press release from Lou Jungbauer, attorney for the two employees. Not knowing the manager’s name, Krekovich asked him to identify himself. The official instead called his supervisors and was instructed to immediately remove the train crew from service and bring them back to Everett’s office.

Union representatives were contacted, but by the time they arrived both men had been questioned by Everett. Neither worker responded to the questions, opting to wait for the union representative to arrive.

Everett then ordered Fletcher and Krekovich to be removed from the property.

Another crew was ordered to take the train to Cheyenne. Later the seats were replaced.

Fletcher and Krekovich were reinstated and continue to work at Union Pacific.

“I’m glad it’s over, although I understand the railroad may choose to appeal,” Krekovich said. “I never wanted this to happen, but at some point, when we’re pushed too far, we have to stand up for what’s right.”

ADVERTISEMENT

He added, “I hope no else has to choose between using equipment that’s clearly defective or face termination for insubordination.”

Fletcher also said he wishes the incident had never occurred.

“I always try to get along with the managers,” Fletcher said. “Most of them are pretty decent. In this instance, however, we ran into a bully, who apparently has gotten away with that behavior for too long.”

Jungbauer, of the Minnesota-based Yaeger and Jungbauer law firm, has represented dozens of railroad workers around the country with FRSA and railroad whistleblower claims.

“When I was first contacted by the two crew members, I informed them it appeared they have a valid claim, but since there was little or no wage loss, any recovery would be minimal,” Jungbauer said.

Both workers responded that “it isn’t about the money. Someone needs to stop the harassment,” he said.

Union Pacific emailed a statement to the Telegraph on the ruling.

“Union Pacific’s No. 1 priority is the safety of its employees and communities, including an unwavering commitment to employee reporting of safety concerns,” said Callie B. Hite, director of corporate communications.