May 3, 2002

CHICAGO (May 3)–Thanks to alert UTU members who filed complaints, officials of the Illinois Department of Transportation will soon begin making field inspections to check out charges of unsafe vehicle operation by operators of vans used to shuttle railroad crews.

“The honeymoon is over,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Since the Contract Carrier Safety Act took effect January 1, IDOT has granted the van operators a reasonable amount of time to bring their vehicles into compliance and to get their drivers properly trained. Now it’s time to start enforcement, and IDOT just informed us that they will begin making surprise inspections at several crew bases in Illinois.”

Szabo said the reason for the decision to begin field inspections of vans is simple:

“Complaints have been coming in from the UTU,” he said. “Our members have begun to document violations. Some have been filling out paper complaint forms. Others have been using the complaint link on the Web page. The union has forwarded all of these complaints to IDOT, and the agency has told us it will respond promptly.”

Szabo did not disclose the locations, the contractors or the types violations the members have documented.

“These are going to be surprise inspections,” he said. “The carriers will not be told in advance that their vehicles or drivers are going to be scrutinized. The IDOT inspectors are just going to show up on site, based on information filed by UTU members.”

Szabo said IDOT’s prompt response is proof positive that membership activism can be effective in creating a safer workplace.

“We now know that if you as an employee notice a crew vehicle being undermaintained or operated unsafely, your complaint will get results,” he said.

“The key is to document what you have witnessed,” Szabo said. “Take a minute to jot down the license number of the vehicle, the state that issued the plate, the location where the violation took place, and the time and date when you witnessed the violation. Note the name of the carrier and the vehicle number, if possible, and describe what kind of violation you witnessed. It could be poor vehicle maintenance, inadequate vehicle certification, or an unsafe driving practice–possibly due to driver fatigue. Prompt enforcement of the crew-van safety law depends on three things: Documentation, documentation and documentation.”

Szabo said the fastest way to document a safety complaint is to go to the UTU Illinois Web page, scan down the left margin and click “Safety Complaints,” then click again on the link known as “Crew Van Complaint Form.”

Those without Internet access can file a paper complaint. Forms are available from all local legislative representatives. They also can be obtained from Tina O’Brien at the Illinois Legislative Board office in Chicago. The phone number is (312) 236-5353.