A ‘ring, ring’ may cost you your job

February 11, 2011

The Federal Railroad Administration has a stark message for rail workers with safety-related duties:

Only use your cell phone when allowed or you could lose your job.

Emergency Order No. 26, which went into effect in October 2008, restricts the use by train crews and others in safety-sensitive positions of cell phones and other electronic devices.

The ban becomes permanent in March.

There is not an exception for personal emergencies.

How serious is the FRA about compliance?

The FRA warns that it can and will subpoena cell phone records, which show the date, time and location of cell-phone use.

In fact, when an accident occurs, the FRA routinely subpoenas the cell-phone records of all crew members involved, and sometimes of those employees on adjacent trains or yard crews.

If the FRA finds that a rail employee in a safety-sensitive position used their cell phone unlawfully during their tour of duty (even if it was hours before the accident) the FRA will notify the employer, who will then terminate the employee.

Workers found violating the ban also face being taken out of service by the FRA, and they face a $25,000 civil fine.

Be aware, also, that carriers may set up a sting to catch you in violation of the ban, such as by calling your cell phone number under the guise of testing compliance with the ban.

The simplest means of avoiding violation of the emergency order is to turn off all personal electronic devices when reporting for duty, stow them away from your person, and not retrieve or activate them until you are relieved from duty by the carrier.

The FRA issued the following statement:

“49 USC 20107(a)(1)-gives the Secretary of Transportation authority to conduct investigations and issue subpoenas in carrying out the railroad safety laws.

“49 USC 20902-grants the authority to investigate and issue subpoenas when railroad accidents [resulting] in serious bodily injury or damage to railroad property.

“18 USC 2703(c)(2)–The “Stored Communications Act”, permits FRA to issue subpoenas for certain basic stored electronic communications information, as we have subpoena authority granted via the two federal statutes listed above.

“The Secretary of Transportation has delegated his subpoena authority above to FRA at 49 CFR 1.49. FRA’s regulations also permit subpoenas to be issued, at 49 CFR 209.7(a) and at 49 CFR 225.31(b).”

Note, also, that if your phone is off and stowed and a rail official demands to see your phone, you can deny them on the grounds of personal privacy. However, do not put yourself in a position where you could be charged with insubordination.

If a confrontation occurs, report the incident to your local officers, general committee officers and/or state legislative director immediately as a violation of your personal privacy rights. As with all reports, it is important to write down the exact time and location, the name of the official, the names of witnesses and other information related to the matter.

The easiest way to avoid trouble? If in doubt, don’t.

For more information on the FRA’s cell-phone and electronic device ban, click on the following links: