March 8, 2005
SPRINGFIELD (March 8)—A long-awaited bill that would stop railroad managers from delaying, denying or interfering with the medical treatment for injured workers was approved by the Transportation Committee of the Illinois House today. HB 2449, was presented in Committee by UTU member and State Representative Eddie Washington (D-North Chicago).
But the slim majority that finally approved the measure, and the unexplained absence of four Committee members when it came time to vote, suggested that H.B. 2449 has much work to be done before it comes before the full House for a vote.
“This one is in our members’ hands,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “If our members call their state representatives and tell them real-life stories of what routinely happens to injured employees, we will win. If we fail to make those calls and share those personal experiences, we will lose. It’s as simple as that.”
Noting that railroad opposition to the bill has been vehement, Szabo said the 15 members who voted in favor of the bill totaled only one more than the minimum needed to send it to the floor for a vote by the full House. He said 14 Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Paul Froehlich of Schaumburg, voted for approval.
“Two Republicans voted ‘no,’ and five Republicans and one Democrat voted ‘present,’” Szabo said. The two ‘no’ votes came from Ron Stephens of Troy and Mike Tryon of Crystal Lake. Rep. Susan Mendoza was the lone Democrat not to vote for the bill.
Szabo said the Committee seemed to agree in principle with the need for the legislation, but had some reluctance with some of the language. “There was some concern over how the logistics would work regarding enforcement,” he said.
“Several legislators agreed to work with us on the language and we agreed to take them up on their offer,” said Szabo. “We’ll be doing some modification of the language when the bill goes to Second Reading on the House floor,” he said. “But the principle behind the bill—that railroad management has no right to deny, delay or interfere with an employee’s medical treatment or to violate the doctor-patient relationship or to intimidate an injured employee into reducing the seriousness of an injury—that is not negotiable.”
Time constraints limited the ability of about a dozen railroad employees present to tell their story as the Committee took testimony on H.B. 2449, Szabo said.
“That’s exactly why we are asking all members to contact their representatives immediately and ask that they vote ‘yes’ on H.B. 2449,” Szabo said. “Share a real life story if you have one.”
“If our representatives merely read the language of this bill it will be little more than an abstraction to them,” Szabo said. “But if they hear the personal stories of constituents who were injured doing railroad work and were denied prompt and effective medical treatment—those stories will make an unforgettable impression and lead to a favorable vote.”
Szabo said members who do not know the names or phone numbers of their state representatives can find all the necessary information on line at http://www.elections.state.il.us/dls/pages/Select OfficialSearch.asp
“State politicians are not shy about talking with their constituents, so don’t be afraid nobody will listen to you or take you seriously” he said. “Call the district office and ask to speak briefly with your representative. Tell them you’re a railroad employee, that you want your rep to vote ‘yes’ on H.B. 2449 and that you’ve got a personal story to tell about why the bill is necessary. If the representative is back in the district you might even want to ask for an appointment to come in and tell your story in person.
“The main thing,” Szabo said, “is to reach out to your state rep and get your story told. The tough debate in the Committee tells us that if we want H.B. 2449 to pass, we’re going to have to make it happen ourselves. Member activism will win this one. Member apathy will throw it away.”