June 10, 2008

CHICAGO (June 10)—A representative of organized labor has been named to the board of directors of Chicago’s 495-mile Metra commuter-rail system.

William A. Widmer, a Chicago attorney who specializes in labor law and serves as counsel to the Chicago Federation of Labor, received the unanimous bipartisan support of the six members of the Cook County Board authorized by law to appoint a new Metra director.

“Affordable, efficient mass transportation is essential for the region’s economy and especially for working men and women,” Widmer said. “I look forward to the opportunity to be a positive influence on their behalf in addressing those issues.”

Widmer, who lives in Evanston, is a partner at the Chicago law firm of Carmell Charone Widmer Moss & Barr, where he represents the CFL and other labor organizations.

“When Metra was established in 1983, one of the original appointees to its first board was Ed Brabec, then the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Today’s appointment marks a return to that custom of the CFL having a seat on the board.”

The opening for Widmer came as a result of a Metra board restructuring that was mandated in the Illinois General Assembly’s January transit-funding agreement. Metra was authorized to expand its board from nine to 11 members. Of those members, one is selected by each of the county executives of DuPage, McHenry, Will, Lake and Kane counties. Another four are chosen by Cook county commissioners representing suburban Cook County areas.

“Metra’s labor organizations had a meeting in December with Dennis Gannon, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor, to discuss ways we could work more closely with the CFL,” Szabo said. “Regaining a CFL seat on the Metra board was one of the specific topics discussed.”

Szabo said the CFL has really begun “flexing its political muscle in Chicagoland” and was very instrumental in securing additional mass transit funding from the General Assembly. He said organized labor’s role in securing additional funding for transit needed to be recognized and “we wanted to use this political clout for the benefit of our Metra membership.”

“As a union officer representing employees in one of Metra’s 16 labor organizations, I feel very reassured about Bill Widmer’s appointment,” Szabo said.

“In addition to having 2,100 unionized employees on its own payroll, Metra is commercially essential to organized labor because the mobility it provides enables the Chicago region to support a wide range of other business and governmental enterprises that use unionized workers,” he said.

Widmer drew bipartisan support from the group of commissioners representing the northern Cook County region. He was approved unanimously by commissioners Larry Sufredin, Earlean Collins, Peter Silvestri, Gregg Goslin, Liz Gorman and Tony Peraica.