October 27, 2004

The Illinois Legislative Board reminds all UTU members and their families to be sure to vote November 2 and to vote for those candidates endorsed by the UTU.

The union’s endorsements can be located on-line by going to the Illinois Legislative Board home page and clicking the “2004 General Election Endorsements” link under “IL. Legislative Board” in the left column.

“All elections are important, but this one is critical for railroad employees and for all workers represented by labor unions,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“Whether it’s safety in the workplace, the integrity of our Railroad Retirement benefits, the future of Amtrak as a unionized railroad, or the right to a confidential doctor-patient relationship when we’ve been injured on the job, our members need to elect candidates who understand and respect their interests,” Szabo said.

“There is a definite difference between candidates with a record of protecting the interests of railroad employees and those who ignore our interests. The Illinois Legislative Board’s endorsements reflect those differences.”

Szabo pointed out that the Board looks at the voting records of individual candidates, not party affiliation, when it endorses candidates.

“Candidates who support the interests of railroad employees are found in both parties,” he said. “We review the voting records of each legislator to see how he or she has voted historically on issues important to railroad workers. Those that support our members’ interests get our endorsement. Those who vote contrary to the interests of our members do not get endorsed. It’s as simple as that.”

Szabo emphasized that the union’s endorsements are not confined just to state legislators—or even to Congress.

“Our national union has made a presidential endorsement as well,” he said, “because the president of the United States can have a tremendous impact on the welfare of railroad workers. The national has endorsed John Kerry for president. Sen. Kerry’s record on rail-labor issues is strong, while President Bush’s is weak.”

Szabo said that even though President Bush has never served as a legislator, his stance on rail-labor issues can be ascertained by his strong and long-standing friendships with rail management. Vice President Dick Cheney has served on Union Pacific’s board of directors. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card has strong ties to major industry figures. Treasury Sec. John Snow is the former CEO of CSX Corp.

Why are a president’s friends and associates in rail management a red flag for rail workers? Because those friends, and others like them, are the people a president is likely to appoint to boards, commissions and courts that rule on issues critical to the welfare of those workers and their families.

“If collective-bargaining talks between a rail carrier and a union break down, the Railway Labor Act authorizes the president to appoint a Presidential Emergency Board to resolve the dispute,” Szabo said. “The PEB’s recommendation usually becomes the next contract. A PEB appointed by President Bush is likely to be biased in favor of rail management.”

Presidents also have a strong influence on the direction of Amtrak, where 20,000 union jobs are at stake.

“But President Bush has proposed a budget that would shut down most of Amtrak and would privatize many of its operations under the management of non-union contractors,” Szabo said. “In addition to cutting jobs and vital contributions to the Railroad Retirement Fund, that scheme would truncate Amtrak’s national system, end years of ridership growth and cripple the development of passenger-rail service just as rising fuel prices, highway congestion and airline bankruptcies are opening up major opportunities for passenger trains.”

Szabo said a second Bush administration also could result in the installation of federal officials and federal judges able to roll back decades of progress achieved by rail workers and their unions.

“The president appoints the Secretary of Transportation, the Surface Transportation Board, the National Mediation Board and the Federal Railroad Administrator,” he said. “Together those appointees could advance the railroad-management agendas for Remote Control Operations, Positive Train Control, one-man operation and crew rest and fatigue standards.

“Federal judges also are appointed by the president, and those appointed by President Bush would be more likely to side with railroad management on issues such as workplace safety, hours of service and liability awards,” said Szabo.

“And the president appoints the Chairman of the Railroad Retirement Board,” he said. “Bush appointees would give railroad management the power to tinker with critical retirement and medical benefits that rail workers and their unions spent decades securing under federal law. We can’t leave our retirement benefits in the hands of people who don’t even believe we should have them.”

Szabo said the national union endorsed John Kerry because he has a positive relationship with the UTU and with all of organized labor that goes back several decades.

“With John Kerry in the White House, railroad workers will have a seat at all of the tables where decisions affecting their welfare are decided,” Szabo said. “We would not have the same voice or input in a Bush administration. Our union urges all rail employees and all members of their families to vote November 2 for candidates endorsed by the UTU at both the state and national levels.”