May 21, 2008

SPRINGFIELD (May 21)—The Senate Transportation Committee approved House Bill 5159 by a vote of 7-3 and sent it to the Senate floor, where it is likely to face tough opposition unless UTU members reach out to their state senators and urge them to approve the measure.

H.B. 5159 was approved by all six Democrats on the Transportation Committee, plus Republican Dale Risinger of Peoria.

“It was a very intense debate,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “The railroads are really fighting this one and really trying to confuse the legislators with off-the wall claims. Our goal is very simple, objective oversight of the specially granted police powers given to railroads – the only for-profit corporations granted these special powers.”

Assistant Legislative Director Bob Guy said the railroads have stonewalled all offers by the union to negotiate agreed-to language.

“Since the bill was introduced in January they have refused to discuss any kind of good-faith language whatsoever,” he said. “They will not come to any common ground with the union.”

Guy said that in view of the railroads’ refusal to negotiate acceptable language, the union’s strategy was simply to tell the Committee members the truth about the uniqueness of railroad police powers and their vulnerability to abuse.

“I told the Committee that the railroads were granted very special powers, and that with special powers goes a responsibility that includes some kind of public oversight, as all other police departments have,” Guy said. “I appreciate the attention our position was given from all the legislators on both sides of the aisle. They listened hard.”

Szabo said the bill is expected to reach the Senate floor for a vote possibly as early as this Friday and urged all UTU members as well as members of their families to call their state senators immediately and ask them for a “Yes” vote on H.B. 5159.

If you do not know the name and phone number of your state senator, simply scroll down the left side of the UTU home page and click on “Legislator Lookup.” Click on the “Address” tab at the top of the window, then enter your address information and click the “Search” button at the bottom. When you see a list of public officials representing you, click “State Senator” on the second line and you will see your state senator’s name and the phone numbers for his or her offices in both Springfield and the local district.

“All you have to do is call the district office and tell the person who answers the phone that you are a railroad employee and you are asking your senator to vote ‘Yes’ on H.B. 5159,” Szabo said.

“You needn’t be bashful about making the call,” Szabo said. “Legislators want to hear from their constituents. They know that voting for the legislation you want is the best way to keep winning your vote in the next election, so be up-front and forthright about what you want—a ‘Yes’ vote on H.B. 5159. Just remember to keep your call short to make sure that the line will be open for other UTU members.

“An immediate telephone outreach to our senators is the best chance we have to pass this bill and bring railroad police departments under some element of public oversight,” he said. “Let’s make those calls now. If we do our job, we’ll win. If we don’t, the carriers will beat us.”