October 14, 2005

CHICAGO—Two Chicago-area crew-van operators have been placed on “Warning Status” by the Illinois Department of Transportation after alert UTU members complained to the Illinois Legislative Board about an out-of-compliance vehicle carrying Indiana Harbor Belt Railway employees and a reckless driver at the wheel of a van carrying Iowa Interstate crews.

“It is gratifying to see our members actively working to secure their own safety by reporting unsafe crew vehicles and drivers,” said Illinois Legislative Director C. Szabo. “Who knows? It’s entirely possible that a member’s life was saved by these prompt actions.”

Szabo said he also was pleased to see the how thoroughly the members documented the details of these incidents and how quickly IDOT acted after the Illinois Legislative Board wrote the incidents up as a complaints.

“The first incident happened August 4,” Szabo said. “A UTU member employed at Iowa Interstate became very alarmed while being transported from Seneca to Joliet in a van operated by A&L Cab Co. The driver was going down I-80 at 85 mph, tailgating and speeding through construction zones.”

Szabo said the member wrote down the number of the van, its Illinois license plate number and a brief description of the driver’s conduct and turned everything over to UTU Local No. 258.

“On August 15 I wrote up the incident in a letter to IDOT and sent it off to Springfield,” Szabo said. “IDOT pulled the company’s records, investigated its performance and on September 9 sent the management an official warning that cited five violations of the Illinois Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. If they’re caught again they could be fined up to $5,000 for each violation, and each day on which a violation occurred would be treated as a separate violation.”

Szabo said the second incident happened August 22 when a UTU member employed by the Indiana Harbor Belt Railway noted an expired safety-inspection sticker on a contract-carrier vehicle provided by Concord Express Livery,” Szabo said.

“The member did everything by the book—jotted down the date, the name of the contract carrier, the van number, the Illinois license-plate number and the location, which was the IHB yard in Blue Island,” Szabo said. “In addition to being expired, the sticker appeared to have been tampered with. The numeral 7, indicating July as the expiration month, was scratched off.”

Szabo said the member turned the information over to UTU Local No. 1883, which promptly forwarded it to the Illinois Legislative Board.

“I had the whole incident written up and sent off to IDOT in Springfield within 24 hours,” Szabo said. “A week later IDOT completed its inspection of the company and found three violations: failing to maintain complete driver-qualification files, failure to have a vehicle inspected semi-annually, and failing to check the accuracy of the driver’s vehicle-inspection report.”

Szabo said both incidents demonstrated the importance of member activism as a tool in securing members’ health and safety.

“Nobody except railroad crew members can successfully spot these violations and call them to IDOT’s attention,” he said. “IDOT is never going to have enough inspectors to make random checks at every railroad yard in the state. It’s the brothers and sisters who ride in the vehicles that have to catch the violations and report them. As these two cases prove, if the members jot down the relevant facts, the Illinois Legislative Board and IDOT will follow up promptly and deliver results.”

Szabo also noted that in both cases, the reporting of one violation led to the discovery of others.

“A member should never be reluctant to report a safety violation—be it in a crew van, a locomotive, a locker room or a walkway—just because it seems modest or insignificant,” he said.

“Look at the Concord Coach case in Blue Island: The safety sticker was ‘only’ about three weeks out of date, but when IDOT went in and investigated it found two more violations, one of which had nothing to do with vehicle inspection—it was about the driver’s qualifications.

“Something similar happened in the Joliet case,” Szabo added. “Our member reported dangerous driving, but when IDOT followed up they found that A&L Cab also was behind in having its vehicles inspected and recertified.

“Safety violations are like cockroaches,” Szabo said. “There’s never just one. I urge our members to report ALL crew-van violations they see or experience, no matter how small. Our union worked hard to get the Contract Carrier Safety Act passed. Now that we’ve got it, let’s use it to save lives.”