May 4, 2006

SPRINGFIELD (May 4)—Using unusually harsh language, and acting with unusual speed in the middle of a busy legislative session, the Illinois State Senate today on a unanimous voice vote reprimanded the Class I railroad industry for filing suit in federal court against the State of Illinois in an attempt to overturn the Rail Employees Medical Treatment Act.

Senate Resolution 734 accused the railroads of a “breach of faith” for asking a federal court to issue a declaratory judgment against the Illinois law, which bars rail carriers from delaying, denying or interfering with the medical treatment of employees injured on the job.

A suit filed by the Class I carriers March 14 in U.S. District Court in Springfield claimed the Illinois Employees Medical Leave Act is without effect because it is pre-empted by federal law.

That brought a sharp rebuke from lawmakers who thought they had agreed to legal language the rail industry accepted. The Resolution, sponsored by State Sen. William R. Haine (D-Alton), expressed outrage that the railroads negotiated the language of the Rail Employees Medical Treatment Act, only to challenge the same language in a federal court after the Act was signed into law.

“Two words spring to my lips—‘duplicity’ and “sandbag,’” Sen. Haine told “Hot Topics” after the vote. “We want the court to understand the duplicity of an industry that would recommend a course of action to the General Assembly and then shortly thereafter file a lawsuit asking the court to declare the General Assembly’s action illegal.”

The Resolution states, “The railroads stated to the Senate sponsors and supporters that…the railroads would not oppose the legislation or the public policy that was the gist of the legislation. Senate sponsors and co-sponsors…assumed that the railroads would not challenge the legality of this legislation upon its passage and enactment into law…”

Sen. Haine confirmed that he used the term “sandbagged” in his remarks on the Senate floor. Two other senators, Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) and Susan Garrett (D-Highwood), also reportedly denounced the railroad industry’s attempt to repudiate its commitment to the Medical Treatment Act.

Crotty told “Hot Topics” after the vote, “We always try to get agreement from all parties before we introduce legislation, and I thought that’s what we had here. The railroad industry was at the table when we drafted the language. But to negotiate language and let the bill pass and then try to turn it around?–I never heard of anything like that in all my years in Springfield.”

“The entire Senate agreed with me when I introduced the Resolution,” Sen Haine said. “We had many supporting statements from both sides of the aisle.”

The Resolution concluded with language directing that copies of the measure be delivered to the court for use as an Exhibit showing that the railroads acted in bad faith.

“It will be up to the judge now,” Sen. Haine said. “She is a wise and honorable judge. And I think our Resolution demonstrates there was a complete lack of good faith on the part of railroad management.”

Commented UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo: “It is interesting that the railroad industry would spit in the face of the General Assembly at the very time it is seeking millions of dollars of support for it’s CREATE program of infrastructure improvements in Chicago. Biting hard on the hand that feeds you is not exactly a wise political strategy. All this over something as morally fundamental as ensuring interference-free medical treatment after an on-duty injury?”