Why you maybe don't want to work for the railroad

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If you occupy a position of authority on a Class 1 or regional railroad, read this. If you’re thinking of becoming a railroader, read this, a case study about how front-line supervisors treat their employees and would-be employees.
Our tale begins as a seasoned train dispatcher with an unblemished record prepares to leave his home to drive more than 1,000 miles for what he has been told is a pro-forma interview to dispatch trains for a regional railroad. Let’s call him Mike. Mike receives this email three days before the scheduled employment interview:
“Mike, I will be on vacation this week. If you left to drive up here I would not be around when you arrived. Also, since we spoke last I have done some checking up on you and it is now my opinion that you would not be the right person for this job. I thank you for your interest in the [name deleted] Railroad but I will no longer be considering you for our Rail Traffic Controller position.” The message is signed by the railroad’s manager of operating practices and rail traffic control. Let’s call him Joe.
Mike pens an immediate reply, asking what sort of misinformation is making the rounds about him. Joe replies:
“Mike, I apologize, I think I should have called you instead of sending the email. There was no trash talk or derogatory statements made about you. I would like to call and clear this up with you today if that would be alright.”
So they talk, at which time Joe confesses with dead-on accuracy that “I don’t have many people-management skills.” Later, Joe emails Mike: “I am glad we were able to talk over the phone today. Again, I apologize that my choice of wording caused you concern.  Email is really no way to communicate something with so much potential for misunderstanding.  As we discussed, if you want to travel here for a face-to-face interview knowing that the [name of railroad deleted] does not reimburse for interview expenses and there is no job guarantee, contact me after April 13th. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call me.”
Mike will not be calling Joe after April 13. If fact, he’s thinking of leaving the railroad business. “If the guy is pulling this on me now,” he says, “what's he gonna do when I get in the chair?” I’ll tell you what he would do. He would make Mike’s life a living hell.
I’m telling you this because it’s just one of a multitude of stories I’ve been told in recent years by railroaders who I respect. And it’s not just a shortline or regional problem. Joe comes from a Class 1 railroad with a terrible reputation for treatment of operating employees. He’s just acting as he was taught to act toward other people.
I feel sorry for Joe, more so than for Mike. Joe’s problem is that he’s not qualified for the supervisory job he holds. Yes, Joe knows the General Code of Operating Rules. But he doesn’t know how to manage people effectively. And if you cannot do that, destructive things begin to happen. There are more and more Joes out there, I sense, because people are being promoted beyond their capabilities and because nobody is supervising the supervisors.—Fred W. Frailey

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