July 7, 2003
CHICAGO (July 7) The UTU’s Illinois Legislative Board and the state’s rail carriers could be headed toward a July 17 showdown before Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) Administrative Law Judge June Tate if agreement is not reached soon on a set of employee-walkway standards proposed by the union.
“Judge Tate held a status hearing on the process June 24, and it became clear at that time that the union and the railroads were not yet in agreement on what the state’s walkway standards should be,” said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.
Szabo said Judge Tate instructed the parties to continue their dialogue and set July 17 as the final deadline for a negotiated agreement.
“We have continued the dialogue,” Szabo said. “We held another workshop with the carriers as soon as the June 24 status hearing was adjourned, and we had conference call with the carriers’ representatives July 1, at which time I submitted the union’s best and final offer.”
Szabo said that if the carriers fail to concur with the union’s proposals by July 17, a formal hearing process will be triggered, with the union and the railroads appearing before the judge to present arguments in favor of their respective positions.
“It is just like a hearing in a courtoom,” Szabo said. “We will be making oral arguments and introducing exhibits to document our position, and we will leave it to the carriers to rebut our position as best they can.”
Szabo said the union is being represented by Washington attorney Lawrence Mann.
“He is one the nation’s most respected authorities on the subject of railroad safety,” Szabo said. “He was one of the principal authors of the Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970. If we have to go into a formal hearing, Larry will be the union’s advocate and I will appear as his witness.”
Szabo said he remains disappointed that the state’s rail carriers so far have failed to agree to the union’s proposed walkway-safety standards, which reflect the rail industry’s own internal policies.
“All we are asking is that the rail carriers in Illinois allow the Commerce Commission to adopt a walkway-safety code based on guidelines recommended by the rail industry itself at the national level,” he said. “The foundation of the safety standards the union is proposing is language already recommended by the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association (AREMA). We are simply asking the carriers to let those AREMA standards become part of Illinois regulations.”
Szabo said the code must establish standards for such fundamental elements of walkway safety as the smoothness, evenness and slope of walkways; maximum size of ballast particles, where used; the minimum width of a walkway; and elimination of hazards such as debris and potholes from areas where employees work on the ground.
“These are fair and reasonable walkway-safety standards that incorporate the rail industry’s own recommendations and have been adopted by a number of other states as part of their railroad safety codes,” Szabo said.
“Railroads and unions should have a mutual interest in employee safety, but for some reason the industry in Illinois has not yet come together with the unions as it has in other states,” Szabo said. “If the industry does not respond positively by Judge Tate’s July 17 deadline, we are fully prepared for our day in court.”