Since 1913, railroads have competed for the coveted E.H. Harriman award. This prize was awarded to the railroad that had the least amount of “reportable” injuries. In fact, many railroads have tied managerial and executive compensation to the number of reportable injuries. Instead of honestly embracing safety, railroads have instead embarked on a mission to intimidate and harass workers not to report on-duty injuries. Thus, the winner of the award was not necessarily the safest railroad; instead, it was the railroad that was best at covering up injuries.
For as long as we’ve been representing railroad workers the railroads, particularly Norfolk Southern, have crowed about the E.H. Harriman safety award. They carted it out whenever anyone said that railroading was unsafe, they tried to use it to end the FELA (see Georgiafela.com), and they even used it to impress clients. But we knew it was a huge fraud on all concerned. In case after case jurors around the country were finding against railroads and awarding fair verdicts for injured workers. Yet, when we looked to see if the railroad had reported these injuries to the FRA or to the “judges” at the Harriman award what we saw was, well, nothing. Nada. Even when injuries were so severe as to justify million dollar verdicts the railroads never reported the injuries.
The protections provided by the Federal Rail Safety Act 49 U.S.C. § 20109 have brought this pattern and practice of intimidation and harassment to the forefront by the institution of whistle blower protections that compensate victims of railroad intimidation and impose punitive damages against railroads. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has reported that railroads have a culture of intimidation that has a chilling effect on the reporting of injuries. OSHA has also found that railroads have, “created a climate of fear instead of a climate of safety.” In other words, railroads have been successful in scaring their employees not to report on-the-job injuries. Our firm has close to two dozen cases pending against railroads for their practices of intimidation and retaliation against injured workers.
The exposure of these practices by railroads, due in large part to the efforts of unions like the United Transportation Union and legal counsel like the Warshauer Law Group, finally led to the end of Harriman award and the fraud for which it stood. The American Association of Railroads just announced the cancellation of the Harriman award beginning in 2013. We hope that the end of this award will lead to more honest reporting of railroad injuries and that workers will no longer fear retaliation by the railroads.
Until next time,
Michael J. Warshauer