May 9, 2003
SPRINGFIELD (May 9)–Vans used to shuttle train crews to their assignments are about to come under Illinois safety regulation–even when the vans are registered out of state.
In a victory for the UTU, the Illinois Senate today passed House Bill 313, an amendment that subjects out-of-state vehicles to all the provisions of the Contract Carriers Safety Act signed by former Gov. George Ryan in 2001.
While the 2001 bill established mechanical standards and semi-annual state inspections for commercial vehicles that haul railroad crew members, as well as hours-of-service rules for their drivers, it failed to include vans domiciled outside of Illinois.
With several larger Illinois railroad yards located just across the Mississippi from Iowa and Missouri as well as close to the Indiana state line on the South Side of Chicago, hundreds of UTU members faced the prospect of being shuttled in vans exempt from the Contract Carriers Safety Act.
That loophole will close soon when Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs H.B 313. After passing the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 106-0 February 21, the measure went on to pass the Senate today by a vote of 50-6, with three senators absent. Having passed both houses of the General Assembly, the bill needs only the governor’s signature to become law.
“The passage of H.B. 313 means all train-crew members carried by commercial vans in Illinois will enjoy the safety of state safety inspection and enforcement,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “There are no more exemptions.”
Szabo noted, however, that the victory could be a hollow one for railroad crews unless they bring the violations to the attention of their unions.
“The Contract Carriers Safety Act is somewhat different from other railroad-safety legislation,” Szabo said. “It requires active involvement by railroad employees in order to work. The state does not have the resources to monitor all of the commercial vehicles that carry train crews, nor can it place inspectors at all of the railroad yards served by these vehicles.
“So railroad employees must serve as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the enforcement system,” he said. Railroad employees must report the violations they encounter, and they must support their reporting with documentation.”
That process actually is pretty simple, Szabo said.
“Employees need to be alert for two things–the mechanical condition of the vehical and the professional performance of the driver,” he said. “If either appears defective, the employee should jot down his or her observations in a notebook.”
At the conclusion of the trip, the employee can submit the observed violations to the UTU by going on line to www.illini.utu.org and clicking the “Safety Complaints” link at the bottom of the left-hand column of the UTU home page, Szabo said.
When the link is activated, the employee will see another link labeled “Crew Van Safety Complaint.” Clicking on that link will produce a form on which the employee can write up a short but complete inventory of the infractions he or she experienced while riding in a crew van.
Those without on-line capability can write up a complaint and mail or fax it to the Chicago office of the Illinois Legislative Board.
“The Contract Carrier Safety Act is working,” Szabo said. “Even before the out-of-state contractors became subject to the law, several van contractors were fined for failure to meet mechanical or driver-performance standards.
“But these successes occurred,” Szabo said, “only because employees noted and described the infractions and documented them by furnishing the union with the date, time, location, vehicle number, license number and the name of the van contractor,” Szaqbo said. “Without the willingness of railroad employees to exercise their responsibility and get involved, both the labor union and state government are powerless.”
Szabo said that while the Contract Carriers Safety Act mandates that all crew vans undergo a mechanical inspection every six months in a state vehicle-inspection facility, “such periodic inspections are only a screening process and cannot detect mechanical failures that develop in between inspections.
“Nor does the state have the resources to monitor every railroad yard where crew vans operate or to observe the performance of all drivers.
“But our members can,” he said. “They’re everywhere–24/7. The involved employee is not just the eyes and ears of the crew-van safety-enforcement process. The involved employee is the heart and soul.”