December 13, 2005

GALESBURG (Dec. 13)—Mike Dagen put his railroad days behind him last April when he retired from the BNSF after 40 years of service as a clerk, switchman, brakeman, conductor and yardmaster.

But just because he pulled the pin doesn’t mean Dagen has put his union days behind him. He not only remains a member of UTU Local No. 1423 but just demonstrated his union solidarity with a Diamond-Plus Card contribution to UTU-PAC, the fund UTU uses to help elect political candidates who support policies favorable to railroad employees and their families.

“Diamond-Plus is a category reserved for donations greater than $400,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Only a handful of our rank-and-file working members donate at that level. To see a contribution that size from a retiree is extremely gratifying.”

Why has Dagen, 60, continued to support UTU-PAC—and he supports it big-time–even though he’s retired?

“It’s a good outfit and I believe in the work they do,” Dagen told “Hot Topics” in a telephone interview.

Asked to define that work more specifically, Dagen said it all revolves around using legislation to keep railroad employees safe when railroad companies are too focused on profits to do the job themselves.

“In this day and age,” Dagen explained, “labor deals with politicians, not the railroad company. The employees often don’t realize that’s how the union protects its men. It gets laws passed that attack the safety issues.”

Dagen said he never really understood much about the union’s political and legislative efforts until he was injured on the job in 2002.

“Our Local UTU Legislative Representative, Bud Linroth, invited me to go down to Springfield with him,” Dagen said. “I testified before the House Transportation Committee about what happened to me and why railroad workers need laws enforcing safety in the workplace.”

Later, Dagen said, he got to see the UTU Illinois Legislative Board deliver that legislation. He cited the Employees Medical Treatment Act and updates to the Crew Van Safety Act passed this year, as well as last year’s Walkway Safety Act, as reasons why UTU-PAC has earned his support.

“They no longer can harass us if we report an injury,” Dagen said. “They can’t interfere with our medical treatment the way they were doing. And each employee who rides in a company van now is insured up to $250,000 in an accident. It used to be $10,000.

“Walkways are another area where the railroads are not going to pay attention to safety without a law,” Dagen said. “It’s only happening now because the union got a walkway-safety bill passed.”

Dagen said his visit to Springfield impressed him with the way Szabo and Asstant Legislative Director John Burner influence legislation—first by supporting the campaigns of worker-friendly candidates with UTU-PAC funds, and then by providing legislators with information and insight into the issues after they’re elected.

“Mr. Szabo gets results—he works for the guys,” Dagen said. “I attended a hearing once where some members of a House subcommittee tried shut him up, but he would not take no for an answer. He said, ‘No, I’ve got to get this information on the record,’ and he did.

“I’ve seen John Burner at work, too. He lays the groundwork by getting around and visiting every legislator’s office and getting to know their staffs—from the secretaries on up. He has a personal relationship with all of them and they know they can always reach him.”

Dagen says he expects to continue to donate to UTU-PAC because there will be a continuing need for laws that protect and benefit rail employees.

“With the company—it’s all about the bottom line,” he said. “With UTU PAC and the legislative process rail workers have an important tool to protect themselves, their families and their benefits.”