EXCLUSIVE: Rail whistleblower suit charges worker safety, staffing issues

Published: Oct. 7, 2015 at 2:11 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 7, 2015 at 5:58 PM HST
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John McCaughey
John McCaughey
Joseph Rosenbaum
Joseph Rosenbaum

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - John McCaughey quit as the head of Ansaldo Honolulu's construction safety program in July because he thought the company was jeopardizing workers' safety.

In a lawsuit filed last week, McCaughey said the company -- which is being paid $1.4 billion to build the trains and operate them -- cut corners by not hiring the required safety experts.

"It's absolutely prevalent throughout Ansaldo joint venture. They do not have adequate staffing to meeting the requirements of this project," said McCaughey.

"They didn't have it when I was working for them and they don't have it now."

In one email, McCaughey says he warned the company that inadequate monitoring could "result in injuries and fatalities to Ansaldo personnel."

McCaughey also says the company required him to do work for work for Ansaldo's Italian parent -- work unrelated to safety on Honolulu's rail line.

He later refused, saying the work, which could take hundreds of hours to do, would jeopardize safety programs for the Honolulu project. He says his supervisor was unmoved, telling him bluntly that he should do what parent company executives wanted:

"If I were you I would make Alfredo happy, as he reviews your performance and determines your salary raises," according to McCaughey's suit.

Joseph Rosenbaum, McCaughey's attorney, questions whether some taxpayer money meant for the rail project is being diverted to other Ansaldo divisions outside of Hawaii.

"It's clear that they were not staffing the project. So therefore where is that money going? Where is that money going that should have been spent on the safety and personnel," he said.

Ansaldo is one of the rail system's largest contractors and the allegations cut to the company's credibility. We reached out to Hart officials and they said they're looking into the matter.

Ansaldo provided the following statement:

The allegations that John McCaughey makes in his complaint and through the media are meritless.  Ansaldo Honolulu JV will vigorously defend the complaint in Federal Court.

The company employed Mr. McCaughey as a Senior Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) advisor for a total of  11 weeks.   All work assigned to him was related to the Honolulu Rail Project.

Mr. McCaughey admits that he offered to continue to perform some of the required Health, Safety and Environmental functions of his position only if the company would change his status from an employee to an independent contractor.  Ansaldo Honolulu declined his offer, and Mr. McCaughey tendered his resignation.

Mr. McCaughey's position was immediately filled by a well-qualified substitute and the Honolulu Rail Project moves forward on schedule.

Ansaldo Honolulu's safety record is nearly spotless.  No fatalities, no major injuries, and no time lost for accidents since day 1 of the project. We had only one minor injury in almost four years.

Ansaldo Honolulu JV is continually striving to evaluate and ensure full compliance with all relevant environmental, occupational health, and safety requirements that apply to the Honolulu Rail Project.

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