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  • Railroaded?

    On September 2, 2010 I worked the first trick as a train dispatcher. I had a coal train that I was told was HOT and needed to go to a holding point and wait for a possible window to go out on AMTRAK sometime that morning. The crew was only good until 1150AM and an 800AM on-duty recrew would be brought out to take the train to destination.

    There is an at-grade crossing at the holding point, to a water treatment facility, which the town deems to be vital to their safety. The crew wasn't sure if the train would fit between the home signal and the road crossing, so I instructed them to have the conductor walk, and if the train didn't fit, cut the crossing and let me know, with the intent that I could then inform my superiors that the train had been cut for this crossing.

    That was the last time I spoke with that crew that morning, because my AVTEC radio system failed catestrophicaly, and I lost ALL radio bases, and no longer had the means to communicate with the train via radio.

    At 1037AM, I received a phone call at the Asst. Chief's desk from the new crew asking permission to put the train back together for a 1045AM AMTRAK window. Permission was given verbally over the phone to put the train back together. Management then flipped out about the train being cut, and while they spoke to AMTRAK, it was determined that the 1045AM window wasn't going to work, and the crew was told to leave the train cut for the crossing, get back in the van and go back home.

    I was charged with "violation of NS General Conduct and Operating Rule in which I failed to follow the intructions of KBB to have train XXX at YYY ready to move for a 1045AM availability on AMTRAK."

    Management never told me of when the window on AMTRAK was going to open up. There were several discussions that morning between AMTRAK and management, none of which I was involved in. KBB, the charging officer at no time gave me a difinitive time on when or even if AMTRAK was going to take the coal train, as the normal operating window was between 10pm and 6am and the coal train was trying to operate well outside of this window.

    During the course of the hearing/trial/kangaroo court held on October 15th, the charge strayed from the above to my failure to "inform management of the potential or possibility for delay to the train".

    The rules state that I am required to report delay of a train, not the potential or possibility of delay.

    Without any radio communications, I didn't know if anything had been done to the train or not, and it wasn't until 1037AM, just 8 minutes before the AMTRAK window, that I found out that the train hadn't fit, and had been cut. Management was immediately notified of this once I had been told.

    So, my question is this. Are train dispatchers supposed to be psychic? Was I somehow supposed to extract this 1045AM window directly from the mind of my superior as it was never vocalized to me?

    Also, my employer cherry picked "all pertinent conversations" between the crew and myself that morning. The full tapes were never made available. As all ambient conversation is recorded on a "catch all" band, I would have thought that KBB would have offered into prosecutorial evidence the conversation that he had with me concerning the 1045AM time, but this didn't happen.

    So, basically, it's my word against his when it comes to whether or not I was ever given a window in which the train in question would move.

    It is my understanding that it can take well over a year to exhaust the appeals process before a Public Law Board will hear my case. Tapes are only kept for I believe a maximum of 12 months. How would I go about asking my employer for these tapes? Do I need a lawyer to do this, and does it require a subpeona to do so?

    In the event that the PLB doesn't rule in my favor, how do I know whether or not I have a case in which I can sue my former employer civilly in court for unwarranted, punitive, and capricious dismissal?

    In the event that the PLB DOES rule in my favor, I would be returning to a hostile work environment, in which NS would merely put me under a microscope and try to fire me again.

    There is a dispatcher, who has worked as such for over 30 years. He has had TWO track authority violations, in the last six months, which were safety related. He got 15/15 (15 days actual, 15 deferred) for the first one, and 30 actual + the 15 days he had hanging over his head for the second offense, but wasn't terminated.

    In the letter terminating my employment, it says, "the evidence adduced in this investigation clearly proved your guilt in the charges as stated above and for your responsibility in this incident you are dismissed in all capacities from the services of Norfolk Southern Corporation".

    When my general chairman attempted to speak with the division superintendent regarding this, the DS stated that I had a couple infractions as a conductor, and had been disciplined a year ago for a non-related incident and thus the decision to terminate me was warranted.

    Wait a minute... The letter firing me said I was being terminated for THIS incident, not anything that I had done previously done. I'm sure the fact that I had an FRA reportable injury in which I broke my leg, and was medically disqualified by NS's "neutral" doctor from service as a conductor "temporarily" in which I became a train dispatcher had nothing to do with my being terminated...

    Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I have all documentation in electronic format that I would be happy to provide.

    Thank you.

    Oh, almost forgot the best part... AMTRAK called back later that morning and said that they had a 1200PM window in which they could move the train, only an hour and 15 minutes after the alleged 1045AM window. But the train couldn't be moved because MANAGEMENT decided to send the recrew home. If the train was TRULY that important, why didn't management leave the 8AM crew on the train, in the event that AMTRAK came up with another window? Wait... I guess management didn't use their psychic powers to deduce this future window, just like I didn't use mine to extract the 1045AM window from the mind of KBB.

  • #2
    If radios were down and you couldn't communicate...well you couldn't communicate. You might have relayed that info to the chief, and whomever else might wish to know. And if you did so much the better; but you can't make radios come back up by waving a wand. Nor can you possibly even guess what might be going on except to extrapolate on the basis of the last communication. Such an extrapolation however will be faulty of course. And in all, it seems they needed a judas goat, and you are it. You should pursue it all the way to PLB, and do not fail to progress it that far if it isn't sorted out sooner, and do see that you get all your lost wages back, and your job on the very desk were removed from...or which ever one you stand for and want. As for losing the recrew, if you knew in sufficient time to get them back on board you could have tried, (and they still would have to put the train together. But if it was the chief which dismissed them...well....try overruling a chief....it's not easy.
    Last edited by jonnyseeandoh; 11-09-2010, 02:51 PM.
    sigpic ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ "Come and get them" Leonidas I to Xerxes, at Battle of Thermopylae

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    • #3
      Sounds like the Thoroughbred laid a horse fucking on you.

      I'll bet they didn't love you before they invited you to the kangaroo court. Depending on the time line from your injury to present, you may want to investigate the Railroad Whistlebower laws and an OSHA complaint if you sense a stron connection to your previous injury.
      Hire more Rons, not morons.

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      • #4
        And if you are returned to service...yes you will be marked for a while, but murder them with compliance, it's the only tool you've got. If that means being a little heavy on a crew well, as long as it's fair and to the rule it has to happen. But make the company suffer....if crew calls in saying three hours left...tell him to park somewhere where a cab can be had, and tie it down without hogging, and make them choose the spot not the chief. And tell them you want brakes being cranked with no less than thirty minutes remaining...don't push them to a hail mary just to please the chief. And make yourself look like a hero by having the cab there waiting before the witching hour! The company will scream when they see things running smooth as buttah.
        Last edited by jonnyseeandoh; 11-09-2010, 03:09 PM.
        sigpic ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ "Come and get them" Leonidas I to Xerxes, at Battle of Thermopylae

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        • #5
          What I particularly loved was the fact that they charged me with one thing, then the entire course of the trial they accused me of something altogether. I was charged during the "trial" of not notifying supervision of the "potential or possibility of delay". I wasn't even charged with violating a whole rule, just a selective part of it. And the rule that says, "when in doubt the safest course of action must be taken".... Might as well throw that one out the window.

          The crossing that the train was cut was for a public waterworks, which is vital that the crossing be cut if it is going to be blocked for an undetermined amount of time. Being as how I had no definitive window as to how long my train was going to be held out, I took the safest route by having the crew cut the train if they were going to block the road. What if the town had an emergency with their water supply and couldn't get in to the plant because my train was blocking the road? Yup, it would be my fault for the train not cutting the crossing and I'll bet that I would be held personally liable for anything that happened.

          Funny thing is, that supervision DID know that I had no radios, no telephone, etc. BUT during the trial, the charging officer "couldn't recall" as to whether or not I had radio problems that day. They moved me into the disaster recovery room, (where my radios there didn't work either) and yet my boss doesn't recall whether I was in there or not.

          When we asked the charging officer when he told me that there was a 1045am Amtrak window, he couldn't recall, but is sure that he told me. When asked that question by the hearing officer, he said the time had to have been before 0935am. When led by the hearing officer during questioning, the charging officer's memory improved substantially.

          One of the best parts of the trial is when the charging officer (fair, impartial, unbiased) asked me why I disobeyed the instruction that I was given.

          Wait a second. That question establishes the fact that I am guilty and shows that their decision as to my guilt or innocence had already been determined before the "trial" even took place.

          When the carrier upholds its decision to terminate me through the appeals process, can I just waive the PLB, and go to an attorney and just sue the living crap out of them?

          If the PLB were to rule in my favor, and order the carrier to return me to work, why would I want to go back? So that I could work under a microscope and them constantly look for a BS reason to fire me again?

          As much as I love the idea of observing and following every rule to the letter, I did not break a single rule, and was fired for it. Whats to keep them from doing it again?

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          • #6
            Been thinking about the "potential or possible things that could delay a train"...

            1) Non-compliance of the crew in stopping for the home signal. Just because the lights are all red, doesn't mean that the crew will stop. Stop signal violations are serious and could have had the potential to delay the train for a long time.

            2) Perhaps Dick Cheney could have been hunting in the area, shot at a bird, missed and peppered the train instead. Gotta be a lot of paperwork and potential for delay there.

            3) George W. Bush... Hey, he got blamed for everything else...

            4) How about the Second Coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (or the first coming, third, or insert your favorite cataclysmic religous event here). After all, no one but the Father knows the day or the hour... Could have happened... No need to report a delay there... Nuf said...

            5) A car could have stalled on the tracks, the train hit it... Lotta paperwork and potential for delay there...

            6) Anyone seen Michael Jackson's pet monkey or other exotic animals lately? Maybe Bilbo the Chimp could have escaped, gotten lost, and wandered onto the tracks...

            7) Obama could have decided to take a last minute trip to Maryland... He shuts down things for miles and miles... HUGE potential for delay there...

            8) The engines on the locomotives could have exploded, rendering the train unable to move. Oops... Single track there... That would be fun to fix...

            9) Fatality of crew member... One or both could have just dropped dead, right on the train... Gotta get another recrew...

            10) Alien abduction. Ever seen the movie Fire in Sky?

            Ya'll get the idea... It is foolish and silly and truly impossible to be charged with failing to provide supervision with "anything that could possibly delay or have the potential to delay a train".

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            • #7
              You need to go all the way to PLB if you don't get exhonerated sooner because your win serves as precedent for anyone following you with similar circumstances, and believe me....your ordeal will be reviewed thousands of times, and decisions made on the basis of the outcome. If perchance the PLB doesn't come out good, then by all means sue them to complete ownership of the company in your name, but I don't know if you would get any attorneys, since they would point out this was a union/company matter that didn't pan out. On the other hand if some fraud or something potentially criminal then you'd have some grounds, and there may be some other employment type law that applies, but think PLB is our Supreme Court....at least on the rails.
              sigpic ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ "Come and get them" Leonidas I to Xerxes, at Battle of Thermopylae

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              • #8
                Originally posted by jonnyseeandoh View Post
                If perchance the PLB doesn't come out good, then by all means sue them to complete ownership of the company in your name

                PLB is our Supreme Court....at least on the rails.
                jonny, you've got too much RR time not to know the Railway Labor Act. You got it right at the end:

                Ex.NSer will not "complete ownership of the company in his name" because a "PLB is our Supreme Court....at least on the rails". Wish him luck at the Public Law Board.
                Hire more Rons, not morons.

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                • #9
                  Right and so I say reserve any court action until the last RLA option is explored and utilized. And I also warn that there may be no legal basis unless there is something criminal. Well the whole matter IS criminal but sadly not in a legal sense.
                  sigpic ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ "Come and get them" Leonidas I to Xerxes, at Battle of Thermopylae

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                  • #10
                    So, basically I was dismissed in a completely biased/unethicial and capricious manner for breaking "part of a rule".

                    Another dispatcher in the office commits (2) two track authority violations within the last (6) six months, and will be returning to work in a few days.

                    So, if the benevolent PLB happens to rule in my favor, and orders Norfolk Southern to return me to work, which it can do with or without back pay, what then?

                    I get to return to a hostile work environment, where I am put at the top of the hit list and another supervisor goes for another "kill" by trying to fire me again for some other bullshit charge?

                    How about the simple fact that Norfolk Southern screwed up in the first place by firing me in a kangaroo court where they failed to prove their case, yet said they did and fired me anyways.

                    My children are having to quit ALL of their extracurricilar activities, we are losing our health insurance, and may be living in a homeless shelter by the time this is over, as I can't even get McDonalds to hire me because I was terminated from my last job.

                    Is the PLB returning me to work REALLY the best that I can hope for? If someone knows of a law where the railroad can't be sued for wrongful termination, I have time, and would LOVE to read it.

                    If someone wants to read ALL of the paperwork regarding my trial, it is in electronic format. Perhaps I am missing something here and deserved to get fired, I just don't know.

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                    • #11
                      Have at it:

                      The Railway Labor Act

                      153. First (q) is a good place to start.
                      Hire more Rons, not morons.

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                      • #12
                        I think the PLB is your last best hope. And if you don't get back on your job or just don't want to go...I have seen short lines hire dispatchers in your very predicament. It might mean making a move but if you want to be a rail still, it could be worth it. Oh, and if you do win you should get back pay, but that depends on the decision of the board, and if you do get it, you'd get it even if you don't wish to return. I know you are tween a rock and hard place now, but you gotta let this thing go all the way to its conclusion before you decide for a certainty what your next action will be. Though any paying situation in the mean time is to your family's advantage if you can find anything.
                        sigpic ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ "Come and get them" Leonidas I to Xerxes, at Battle of Thermopylae

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                        • #13
                          Ex,
                          One of the first things I'd do if it wasn't already done by your LC at the hearing is to get a copy of the trouble ticket or other documentation that the Radios were out at the time of the incident. This substantiates the fact that there were mitigating circumstances in connection with the incident that management was clearly aware of yet lied about at trial. There is also the "steps of discipline" that most Carriers follow, Arbitrators have held consistently that discipline must be corrective in nature and must follow a natural progression (steps), the Carrier based on what you've included here hasn't followed that progression at all which is another avenue to follow on the appeal.
                          If your LC does his homework and writes a good appeal, you'll probably get an offer of reinstatement because of the circumstances. What they are in a sense here attempting to do is nail you with an insubordination charge most likely because they(KBB) had to make "someone" the fall guy for the coal train not making it thru the window etc..... Many times there are cooler heads in LR who can read into a termination and will reverse it although without back pay. If you also feel strongly about the case push hard to have the incident REMOVED from your record at on property appeal appeal, and get as much information as you can into the on property appeal that would help your case because once "Arbitration" is mentioned(case listed for Arb) in the case, the on property record is sealed and you cannot add information after it is listed for arbitration other than previous cases to substantiate your claim.
                          Unfortunately the RLA is what we have to deal with in the rail industry and it is advisable to exhaust those avaenues before going any other route as other legal venues will refer you back to the RLA and the course of action you have to take there before going elsewhere.

                          Lastly,You're obviously someone who takes pride in what they do, however there are supervisors (if that's what you call them) who don't share that same pride, nor will they accept blame when it is their balls in a sling. Unfortunate is the fact that because of the pride that most of us take in doing our jobs, being that professional we are, we make those that are less than professional in management positions look good to their superiors by us being proficient at what we do. Most that are in supervisors jobs that haunt Dispatchers couldn't dispatch a train around a christmas tree, yet are the first in line to bring out an error or even a scent of an error a Dispatcher made or might make. This but another reason we need to take notice in Labor that we are under attack. I also hope there are those in other crafts who take notice that you Gents in the DS office are also under the gun discipline wise same as us in T&E(and elsewhere)

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