Earlier this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding they feel will facilitate coordination and cooperation between the two agencies. The memorandum allows for the exchange of safety, coercion, and retaliation information between the two entities. This agreement seems to have been developed primarily as a result of two other pieces of legislation: the anti-retaliation provision of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), 49 U.S.C. §31105, and the anti-coercion provision, 49 U.S.C. §31136(A)(5). The STAA protects drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) from termination and other acts of retaliation for reporting safety, health, or security concerns. The anti-coercion provision provides the Secretary of Transportation the authority to develop regulations that ensure a CMV driver is not coerced into operating a vehicle in an unsafe manner or condition.
OSHA’s responsibility is the investigation of complaints of retaliation upon drivers by a commercial motor carrier. Under the STAA, OSHA has the authority to order affirmative action upon the commercial motor carrier to abate the situation, reinstate driver(s), and award compensatory damages as well as reasonable attorney fees to the driver. In contrast, the FMCSA’s purview is in investigating and taking appropriate enforcement action against the commercial motor carrier found to have been in violation of federal safety regulations. FMCSA has many options when taking action against a commercial motor carrier, ranging from issuing a notice of violation up to and including suspending their operating authority.
Per the agreement, the FMCSA will inform all individuals who complain of alleged retaliation of OSHA’s areas of responsibility and supply the individual with the proper contact information to file a complaint. OSHA will supply the FMCSA with complaints filed and findings issued under the STAA. Finally, the agencies will report to each other annually on the previous year’s activities.
In the past 9 years, OSHA has processed almost 3,000 cases under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. Recently, OSHA ordered a transportation contractor in Oregon to repay $115,000 in back wages and reinstate a driver who was fired in 2011 after she refused to drive her truck that she said had inadequate tire tread.