July 25, 2005

CHICAGO (July 25)—With UTU International President Paul Thompson and a bevy of Illinois General Assembly dignitaries looking on, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today signed into a law a precedent-setting bill that protects Illinois railroad employees from supervisors who attempt to deny, delay or interfere with their medical treatment for workplace injuries.

H.B. 2449 subjects a rail carrier to a fine of up to $10,000 for each separate count of delaying, denying, or interfering with, medical treatment. The measure completed its journey through the General Assembly when it passed the Senate May 28 after being introduced in the House Feb. 18 by the only UTU member in the General Assembly, State Rep. Eddie Washington (D-North Chicago).

Joining Washington and Thompson at the long-awaited bill-signing ceremony were UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo; Asst. Legislative Director John Burner; Alternate Legislative Director Bob Guy; House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville); and Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tony Muñoz.

Upon signing the legislation – in recognition of the UTU’s lead effort in drafting, introducing, and lobbying the historic legislation – the Governor presented UTU President Paul Thompson with the ceremonial pen.

Gov. Blagojevich also used the occasion to sign H.B. 2510, another UTU-sponsored measure that mandates operators of commercial crew vans carrying railroad employees to carry no less than $250,000 in uninsured-motorist coverage on each passenger.

Szabo said the signing of the two bills represented a “huge milestone” for the Illinois Legislative Board and a major advance in the welfare of all of the state’s railroad employees.

“Rarely do we see the simultaneous signing into law of two bills that have a common theme of such fundamental importance: the personal health, safety and privacy of our members,” Szabo said. “There is no higher duty that a union owes its members than the protection of their lives and health.”

Szabo said both new laws represented the culmination of a “bottom-up” approach that has led to an increasing number of workplace-safety laws being passed in Illinois because union leadership responded to action requests that originated at the membership level.

“For far too long we have been getting phone calls and letters from members saying they had been pressured not to go to an emergency room, to take a few days’ off before seeing a doctor, or to discontinue a prescription drug,” said Szabo.

“We heard repeated accounts of trainmasters accompanying injured employees into the doctor’s private consulting room and suggesting treatment options rather than accepting the diagnosis of a licensed practitioner. It was outrageous, and it’s been the industry’s dirty little secret for a decade. We had to have a law, and today we got one.”

President Thompson said the work of the Illinois members and leadership are a model for the UTU in other states and for organized labor everywhere.

“With its work on behalf of H.B. 2449, the UTU in Illinois has dramatically raised the level of protection that unions can secure for the health, safety and dignity of their members,” Thompson said. “By drawing this line in the sand and saying ‘No more,’ the Illinois Legislative Board has made it much harder for carrier supervisors to pad their safety bonuses by interfering with the medical treatment of injured human beings.

“This is what can be accomplished when members get involved with appropriate approaches to government,” said Thompson. “UTU-PAC and the individual involvement of our membership were the key. Teamwork – and a strong union – achieve victories.”