Metrolink Train Engineer Employer Facing Employment Practice Charges In Federal Court

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Federal investigators are still puzzling out the cause of the Chatsworth crash. Even so, the company that employs Metrolink train engineers is under scrutiny for its possible role in the accident. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports that Veolia Transportation is already facing claims about its employment practices in federal court.

Molly Peterson: Plaintiffs' attorney Brian Kabateck's firm and others represent bus drivers who claim that Veolia Transportation regularly broke California wage laws, didn't pay overtime, and didn't take enough safety precautions, like required rest breaks. Kabateck says that Metrolink engineers, paid by Veolia, may have had the same problem.

Brian Kabateck: The reason that it has a potential impact on the events of last week is that not providing people with an opportunity to take a break, clear their head, is a danger to the public safety.

Peterson: A complex web of federal laws covers railroad operations. State and local laws generally handle buses. Kabateck contends that regional commuter rail operations are more like medium-haul bus lines.

Kabateck: Particularly since we're dealing with not a traditional railroad, but we're dealing with the Metrolink type of system, which, we're taking the position that it's the same law that applies to just bus drivers.

Alan Moldawer: They attempt to lump a lot of different groups together.

Peterson: Veolia's general counsel, Alan Moldawer, says he believes the bus drivers' lawsuit won't have anything to do with the Metrolink crash.

Moldawer: Our railroad employees are subject to different rules and regulations than are our bus drivers.

Peterson: Veolia Transportation operates in more than 100 places in the United States and Canada. Moldawer says that the company is facing lawsuits in a handful of them. He maintains that dealing with them is the cost of doing business.

Moldawer: There are thousands upon thousands of class action lawsuits pending in California currently against not just every private provider of public transportation, but also just about every other type of business that has employees in California.

Peterson: Lawyers who represent the bus drivers for their labor law claims have asked federal court to include all Veolia employees as possible members of a class action. A federal judge is likely to rule on that point later this winter.