March 3, 2004
CHICAGO (March 3)—After much stonewalling and legal wrangling, the Illinois Commerce Commission today ordered the Norfolk Southern Railway Company to replace a dilapidated and unsanitary Chicago crew base that UTU members first brought to the carrier’s attention more than two years ago.
Commission Chairman Edward C. Hurley ordered the railroad to have the replacement building constructed and functioning at its 55th Street yard within six months and to show cause for any appeals to extend the deadline. Exceeding the deadline without prior Commission approval could cost the railroad up to $1,000 per day in fines.
“Securing proper shelter for our members at NS’s 55th Street yard has been a long and frustrating process, blocked by NS every step of the way,” said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.
“It was more than two years ago that the UTU #1895 Local Chairman for Enginemen, Rich Ross, first brought problems at the 55th Street Yard to the attention of Norfolk Southern supervisors,” Szabo said.
“Rich told them the building lacked adequate lighting, ventilation and drinking water, that the windows did not seal properly, that rain was entering through cracks in the roof and walls, that female employees lacked private space in which to change clothes, that the showers didn’t work, that employees had to change clothes while standing because the locker room had no benches, that trees were growing through cracks in the floor and that rats were entering the building.”
Szabo said that although Norfolk Southern supervisors had toured the building with union officials and ICC inspectors and had promised repairs would be forthcoming, “Nothing happened.”
“The railroad assured us both in conversations and by letter that steps would be taken for improvements,” Szabo said. “But as time passed, it was clear that there had been no follow-through.”
Commerce Commission inspectors visited the 55th Street crew facility in May of 2002 and confirmed that the building failed to comply with seven provisions of Part 1545 of the Illinois Administrative Code. But after more than a year passed with no follow-up by the railroad or the ICC, Szabo initiated action by filing a formal complaint with the Commission in June 2003.
“It was extremely frustrating,” Szabo said. “In addition to failing to take any corrective actions, Norfolk Southern management showed further bad faith by filing to have our Complaint before the Commission dismissed.”
Commission Administrative Law Judge June Tate rejected the carrier’s Petition for Dismissal and convened a hearing at which Ross and UTU #1985 Local Chairman Mike Dilday testified about the building’s persisting compliance failures. Judge Tate continued the hearing until October 30 to give the railroad a chance to reply but apparently found no convincing argument why an Order to comply should not be issued.
“We are very gratified by Judge Tate’s order today and look forward to seeing Norfolk Southern complete construction on a modern replacement building at 55th Street within the Commission’s six-month deadline,” Szabo said. “Our members in Local #1985 have been waiting for better crew quarters for a long time. A sanitary, structurally sound building in which to change clothes, wash up and store personal belongings is a fundamental of safe and sane railroading.”
Szabo said the episode should remind union members to speak out to their Local leadership about workplace health and safety issues.
“If you think you have an issue with management, bring it up with your UTU Local at once,” Szabo said. “If you think something is wrong, ask your Local Chairman or Legislative Representative about it. You may well be onto something, and the law or the union agreement may provide a remedy.
“As the 55th Street case proves, railroads can be masters of the foot-dragging process, and their lawyers know all the rules and all the tricks for stalling,” Szabo said. “But you have to trust – and use – the process. Your involvement can bring results.”