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The rail industry prefers to discipline workers rather than take their confidential input regarding safety improvements. That’s the hypocritical policy of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) in a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg dated August 24, 2023. This is a reversal from their public posturing earlier this year.

Following Norfolk Southern’s February 3 toxic derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the rail industry was under intense pressure to prove their commitment to safety. At the time, Secretary Buttigieg secured a promise from the AAR that freight railroads would participate in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), a way for railroad workers to anonymously report safety problems without fear of retribution.

Nearly six months later, the industry is backtracking and once again intent on blaming workers for its safety deficiencies.

In its August 24 letter to Secretary Buttigieg, the AAR claims “most, if not all” close call events result from employees failing to following safety rules. BLET National President Eddie Hall took exception to that characterization in his own letter to the Secretary.

“Blaming workers creates the exact kind of environment where employees do not feel able to report unsafety conditions that the C3RS is designed to fix,” President Hall wrote in an August 25 rebuttal to Secretary Buttigieg. “We are deeply disappointed that the AAR continues to perpetuate this toxic work environment.”

“We take issue with the AAR and Class I railroads’ continued reasoning that more discipline will create more safety,” President Hall continued.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative Vince Verna said: “This is really old-school, tired rhetoric that blames the worker for the failures that are inherent in all complicated systems. Blaming the worker is exactly what leads workers to not report unsafe conditions in the workplace.”

To read President Hall’s August 25 letter in its entirety (PDF), please visit the National Division website.