Fired CSX conductor seeking whistleblower protection, changes within company

By: Kevin Clark , Action News Jax

Updated:

A former CSX employee says he was fired for speaking out about safety concerns to the company and in an interview with Action News Jax. 

Louis Billingsley is now seeking whistleblower protection. 

He was fired by CSX this month after nearly 12 years as a conductor.

During a July interview with Action News Jax, Billingsley shared his concerns about the abolition of certain safety procedures for rail workers. 

One policy change eliminated the three-step rule, an extra safeguard to keep cars from moving when employees are working between or under them.

Another change banned the use of the brake stick, meaning conductors now have to tie the brakes by hand. 

“It’s just a matter of time before someone seriously gets hurt,” Billingsley told Action News Jax Thursday.

CSX has been under scrutiny for other operating changes since CEO Hunter Harrison took over earlier this year.

As CSX has cut jobs to try to increase efficiency, it has consolidated trains to make them longer.

Billingsley claims the trains have become too long, making it hard for rail employees to communicate from one end to the other. 

The longer trains often block neighborhoods and streets for hours at a time on their way in and out of railyards.

“We need to show that we care about the public, we care about the people, and sometimes that’s worth more than record-breaking profits,” Billingsley said.

But Billingsley says when he raised these concerns, CSX became retaliatory.

A day after Billingsley interviewed with Action News Jax in July, he received a short voicemail telling him he’d been fired.

“I couldn’t believe it, I was like, ‘Wow, they really want to shut you up,’” said Billingsley.

Not 40 minutes later, another voicemail from CSX told him he’d been rehired.

“I think they realized what they did, and they put me back into service,” he said.

But for the next couple of months after that, Billingsley claims he was targeted, and that his superiors followed him around and watched his every move.

“Almost two months later, they got me. On a minor infraction,” he said.

The dismissal letter obtained by Action News Jax says Billingsley was fired for running in the gauge of the rail, operating a switch with one hand, and “not maintaining visual contact with the equipment while making a shove move.”

But Billingsley tells us everyone within CSX knew he was fired because he spoke out against the changes associated with Precision Railroading, and what he calls the “culture of fear” within the company.

“It was all from that interview I placed,” he said. “And I did the interview because I think the public needs to know what kind of environment CSX has become.”

When Action News Jax reached out to CSX for this story, a company spokesperson told us:

"CSX does not comment on individual personnel matters. Safety remains CSX’s highest priority in every aspect of our operations." 

She then added:

"CSX denies any allegation that it would retaliate against an employee who raises safety concerns."

Billingsley has retained an attorney, who is filing a complaint with OSHA.

The attorney, John Magnuson, told Action News Jax that if Billingsley doesn’t get his job back, they’ll likely file a whistleblower protection lawsuit in federal court.

“I’m an example of what happens when you open your mouth and voice a concern,” Billingsley said. 

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