U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, questioned Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw to demand that the company take responsibility for the environmental and public health threats posed by the derailment and hazardous chemical release in East Palestine, Ohio. Padilla is committed to holding Norfolk Southern and multibillion-dollar corporations accountable for continuously prioritizing profits over the safety of workers and communities.
During his questioning, Padilla highlighted how Norfolk Southern has reduced its overall workforce by almost 40 percent since 2015 and pressed Mr. Shaw to commit to increasing its maintenance and safety workforce. Mr. Shaw committed to adding more hotbox detectors, but stopped short of a firm commitment to adding to their safety workforce.
Padilla also raised concerns about the workload assigned to each inspection worker, and the low number of workers dedicated to inspection and maintenance of safety technology. Padilla concluded by expressing his deep concern over the inadequate time dedicated to inspecting a train car, which the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department reports is only 60 seconds per car. He also called out Mr. Shaw for increasing stock buybacks while compromising safety protocols.
During the hearing, Padilla also questioned Debra Shore, Regional Administrator of U.S. EPA Region Five, to ensure that the lack of accountability for corporate polluters from the Trump Administration does not carry over into the Biden Administration. The exchange highlighted how the Trump administration allowed corporate polluter Exide Technologies to go bankrupt and evade all criminal responsibility for toxic contamination in Los Angeles, in contrast to the Biden administration holding Norfolk Southern accountable for all costs of the clean-up and restoration in East Palestine.
- PADILLA: You recently announced the that Northfolk Southern would be deploying more wayside detection and hotbox detector technologies as part of the safety plan. […] From what I understand, the company has also reduced its workforce by nearly 40 percent since 2015. According to your own data reported to the Surface Transportation Board, the number of employees assigned to maintenance of equipment and stores has decreased by 60 percent. Given what’s happened, is Norfolk Southern now going to hire the additional signal workers necessary to maintain and inspect the system that you’re relying on to improve safety?
- SHAW: We have taken it upon ourselves to install more hotbox detectors as needed. Senator […] Senator, if we need to hire more signal workers to maintain it and inspect this, the systems, we will absolutely do.
- PADILLA: How many sensors or length of track are assigned to each worker?
- SHAW: Senator, I don’t have that specific information.
- PADILLA: Do you know, if workers are specifically dedicated to the inspection and maintenance of these technologies, or if it’s just one on a long list of responsibilities they may have in the course of a day?
- SHAW: Senator, I don’t know the specifics to that. I’m happy to get that information to you.
- PADILLA: According to the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, the amount of time carmen have to inspect each car in a train has been reduced by two-thirds from three minutes to now just 60 seconds per car. 60 seconds. […] And to me, it just falls into the greater pattern that we’ve seen for the past decade, workforce overall, reducing corporate compensation to stock buybacks on the upswing when the workforce that keeps the trains running and running safe is what’s being compromised.
Senator Padilla is committed to holding corporations accountable and ensuring that every family has access to clean air and clean water. He has previously called on DOJ to improve enforcement of environmental laws in the Central District of California, specifically for Exide Technologies, which evaded responsibility in spite of committing decades-worth of environmental crimes by dumping lead and other hazardous contaminants into the air, soil, and water in mostly working-class, Latino communities.