Rail worker union representative alleges Norfolk Southern put workers in danger
COLUMBIANA COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - A letter written by a rail worker union representative addressed to Governor Mike DeWine is requesting DeWine use his influence as governor to stop what the representative calls “reckless business practices” by Norfolk-Southern following the Feb. 3 toxic train derailment in East Palestine.
In a letter written on behalf of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BWMED), Johnathon Long explains that he is a Norfolk Southern Railway Maintenance of Way worker who represents nearly 3,000 employees on Norfolk-Southern railways.
Long’s letter was written based on reports from workers who were at the scene of the derailment.
NS instructed approximately 40 of its Maintenance of Way Employees to come on site and begin cleaning up the wreckage. I received reports that NS neither offered nor provided these Workers with appropriate personal protective equipment, such as respirators that are designed to permit safely working around vinyl chloride, eye protection and protective clothing such as chemical restraint suits, rubber overboots and rubber gloves rated for safely working around the spilled chemicals that prevent direct contact with such substances.
Long claimed rail workers on site of the derailment reported nausea and migraines after being exposed to the chemicals being carried by the train at the time of the accident.
When some of the NS Workers inquired about the appropriateness of their personal protective equipment and the safety of their working conditions, they would receive little or no response from NS officials. One Worker shared with me that he called his supervisor and requested to be transported off the derailment site due to concerns of his safety caused by the exposure to the chemicals which were causing him nausea and migraines; the supervisor stated he would get back to the Employee, but he never heard back from his supervisor and the Employee was left on the job site. Many other Employees reported that they continue to experience migraines and nausea, days after the derailment, and they all suspect that they were willingly exposed to these chemicals at the direction of NS. This lack of concern for the Workers’ safety and well-being is, again, a basic tenet of NS’s cost-cutting business model.
Long also discussed an offer from Norfolk Southern regarding paid sick leave that came after questions were raised regarding the derailment.
With this ongoing in East Palestine, I received numerous inquiries from the Workers I represent, and I was pressing NS for answers to legitimate questions of those concerned Employees. At the same time, I was engaging with NS as General Chairman of the ARSF. During these discussions, NS representatives raised the prospect of reaching an agreement on paid sick leave. We had been in negotiations over paid sick leave for some time now, but those negotiations were going nowhere. So when NS came to me with a level of seriousness towards the subject, I thought it was with good intentions. But when I received NS’s proposal, it felt like an underhanded attempt to further raise their profits under their cost-cutting business model.
Long said in his letter that Norfolk Southern would agree to provide paid sick leave to BMWED Members if the union would withdraw a letter in opposition to an experimental automated track inspection program and issue a new letter in support.
As part of NS’s experimental automated track inspection program, it would reduce the performance of visual human inspections following behind the automated machines, checking and ensuring their accuracy and checking for defects the machines cannot detect. Current FRA regulations require that railroad tracks be inspected by a qualified human track inspector, who is highly trained and qualified to perform such inspection.
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