U.S. rail workers told to skip safety inspections and repairs: report
Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio on February 4, 2023 (AFP)

A manager at Union Pacific — one of the largest rail companies in America — told a former worker that she should stop tagging railcars for broken bearings and repairs, according to the employee and a leaked audio recording of the conversation accessed by The Guardian.

The startling order emerged as U.S. officials are increasing scrutiny of rail company safety procedures in the wake of the toxic Norfolk Southern freight train derailment that triggered evacuations last month in East Palestine, Ohio.

Former Union Pacific car worker Stephanie Griffin expressed concerns to her manager in 2016 that she was getting "pushback" for tagging — reporting for repair – cars, she told The Guardian. Her manager reportedly assured her it was okay to skip inspections, and refused to order repairs even for bad wheel bearings which could trigger accidents like derailments, according to Griffin.

A wheel-bearing failure was cited as the cause of the East Palestine crash in a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

When Griffin asked the manager if he would put that in writing, the newspaper said he responded: “That’s weird. We have 56 other people who are not bad-ordering [tagging for repair] stuff out there. You’re definitely not going to get in trouble for it.”

Griffin also told the newspaper that she and other worker received no formal training concerning inspections and necessary repairs, and had to rely on information from veteran workers and handbooks.

Griffin told The Guardian that the Union Pacific home office would "start berating" local management if they tied up any cars too long for repairs.

“It’s very obvious that management is not concerned with public safety, and only concerned with making their numbers look good,” Griffin said.

Union Pacific responded in an email to The Guardian that “nothing is more important than the safety of Union Pacific employees and the communities we serve. Union Pacific does not have the alleged recording" referred to in the article, and "cannot comment on its authenticity.”

The statement added: “Employees are expected and encouraged to report concerns, and have a number of avenues to do so, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and they are firmly protected from retaliation.”

Check out the full Guardian story here.