William “Bill” J. DeBaun, a retiree from SMART Transportation Division Local 1532 and a former vice chairperson and legislative representative for the Kansas City, Kan., local, passed away late last month.
Brother DeBaun was 73 years old.
A yardman out of Argentine Yard in Kansas City, in addition to his service to Local 1532’s membership, Brother DeBaun also worked as a new hire training coordinator, helping those workers just starting out on the Atchison, Topeka Santa Fe Railway/BNSF. Many of those he had trained later asked about how Brother DeBaun and his wife of 34 years, Carol, were doing after his retirement from the railroad in 2005.
His work as vice local chairperson was “invaluable” to the members of LCA 1532, said SMART-TD Vice President Joe M. Lopez.
“Bill spent countless hours researching and processing time claims on behalf of the membership. Much of that work was done on his accord, without the members having to spend a second of their own time writing up the claim(s), while Bill sacrificed countless hours each month of his own time securing monies on their behalf,” Lopez said. “Bill was also an effective legislative representative for Local 1532. Bill’s efforts at taking on the carrier for safety violations were very effective.”
Lopez said that as a local chairperson, he and his predecessor, Doug Schlosser, benefited greatly from DeBaun’s impeccable organizational skills, as did the members who had their claims paid out.
“I believe I can safely speak on Doug’s behalf when I say both of us were extremely lucky to have worked with Bill. During our many years of working together, on the second Wednesday of every month, Bill and I would attend our regularly scheduled claims conference with local management and at the onset of each of those conferences Bill would hand me a large stack of claim dockets neatly organized and with an abundance of supporting documentation, which more often than not, led to a successful conference,” Lopez said. “The quality of Bill’s work as both a vice local chairperson and legislative representative has been unmatched and likely never will be. Bill made me a better local chairperson.”
Brother DeBaun was a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He is survived by his wife, Carol, nephews John & Shawn Strange and a number of other relatives.
SMART Transportation Division offers its sincere condolences to his family, his Local 1532 union brothers and sisters and all who knew Brother DeBaun.
His full obituary is available here.

A UTU member will be collecting more than $95,000 in penalties assessed against BNSF by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for the railroad’s violation of the Federal Rail Safety Act.

OSHA found BNSF guilty of intimidating and harassing an injured UTU member who reported his workplace injury to the Federal Railroad Administration. The monetary award covers back wages, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

This is the first major award by OSHA after UTU International President Mike Futhey requested UTU designated legal counsel ramp up efforts to assist members whose whistle-blower rights under the Federal Rail Safety Act have been violated.

BNSF employee Ronald Helm (Local 1532, Kansas City), targeted for discipline after being injured on the job, didn’t feel so helpless against his powerful employer after his local chairperson, Joe Lopez, attended a seminar on whistle-blower rights given by a designated legal counsel. Helm is a 33-year veteran of the former Santa Fe and BNSF.

With assistance from General Chairperson Jim Huston (BNSF, GO 009), and committee Secretary Rex Pence, a case was developed and presented to OSHA, which administers the law as it applies to whistleblower protection.

Helm had been assessed a 30-day record suspension with no time lost, given one-year probation, and assessed 40 points against his personal performance index after reporting his personal injury to the FRA. Had the injury not been FRA reportable, he would have been assessed only five points.

BNSF said the penalty against Helm was for using a pin lifter, instead of a hickory stick, to adjust mismatched couplers in BNSF’s Argentine, Kan., yard. Evidence showed BNSF had not made the hickory stick available until after Helm’s injury.

Moreover, according to OSHA, BNSF’s discipline was arbitrary because BNSF typically does not discipline workers for using different tools if work is performed in a timely manner.

“An employer does not have the right to retaliate against employees who report work-related injuries,” said OSHA. And BNSF’s points system serves to discourage the proper reporting of workplace injuries, said OSHA.

In addition to the monetary penalty, BNSF was ordered to inform each of its employees in its Kansas Division — and in writing — of their whistle-blower rights under the Federal Rail Safety Act of 2007.

“This case and the work of our designated legal counsel shows that the federal law protecting whistle-blowers has teeth and that it can and will be used to stop the intimidation and harassment faced by our members,” Futhey said.

“UTU members who think they have been retaliated against for reporting workplace injuries should discuss the matter with a UTU designated legal counsel, their general chairperson or state legislative director,” said Futhey.

Complaints must be filed with OSHA within 180 days of the alleged employer retaliation.

Click on the following link for a listing of UTU designated legal counsel:


Click on the following link for a detailed OSHA fact sheet: