January 19, 2004

CHICAGO (Jan. 9)—The UTU’s campaign for a state regulation ensuring safe walkways in all Illinois railroad yards will continue, the union’s state legislative director said today.

“While we received an unfavorable recommendation from the Illinois Commerce Commission’s Administrative Law Judge June Tate, we remain confident that a regulation assuring unobstructed walking surfaces will ultimately emerge,” said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

Judge Tate’s proposal will now move before the full Commerce Commission for consideration. Szabo called her ruling “disappointing” but said it left the union “unfazed.”

“We knew from the onset that there would be several steps forward, a few backwards and lots of obstructions in the way – it’s a lot like working in a rail yard,” Szabo said. “The judge’s proposal is only one step in the process. It is not final.”

Using a baseball analogy, Szabo stated “It’s more like a runner being called out on a close play at home plate during the first inning. While I’d love to have that run, there are more innings to be played, multiple opportunities to score, and several different ways of scoring.”

Szabo said the union’s lawyer, Larry Mann, who has argued many workplace-safety cases before the courts and regulatory bodies, and who is the author of a variety of state and federal safety laws, will be preparing a response to the Judge’s proposed order.

“We will be reviewing all potential strategies, administrative as well as legislative,” Szabo said. “While I still believe that we can get this accomplished via the Commission — if not — we have other options and we will do what it takes.”

Szabo said even though the proposed standards have not yet been implemented, the seriousness and persistence of the UTU’s efforts have begun to exert some positive impact on railroad behavior.

“Simply by raising this issue with the regulators, the UTU had led several railroads to become much more attentive to debris, hazards and ballast size,” he said. One carrier has initiated a major resurfacing on one of its properties and is making spot improvements at another site.

“But the record statewide remains spotty, with too many locations where carriers ignore the documented complaints brought forward by UTU members,” Szabo said.

“It’s something the industry should be ashamed of,” he said. “Keeping walkway areas reasonably level and free of debris and hazards should really be common sense. But if the carriers won’t do it, it simply gives us the ammunition we need to ensure a regulation.

“If your switching yard has any hazards, large unstable ballast or other obstructions, write it up, write it up, write it up!”–Szabo advised the membership. “You’ll be doing yourself, your coworkers and UTU members through out the state a big favor. And you’ll be putting runners on base for us to drive home.”