April 10, 2008

CHICAGO (April 10)—The UTU Illinois Legislative Board is asking all members to call their state representatives immediately and ask them to support House Bill 5159.

“Time may be short, so we’re asking our members to act now,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

H.B. 5159 is intended to improve the Illinois Railroad Police Act by establishing “independent and objective” oversight of rail carriers’ use of their specially granted police powers.

“All police officers and police departments, whether they be municipal, county, state — or in this special case, corporate — must be accountable to an objective and neutral body of some sort,” Szabo said. “Civil police departments already are subject to this type of accountability, but railroad police departments, which have the same full police powers under state statute, are not.

“We want to make sure that railroad police officers are subject to the same sort of public oversight as civil police, Szabo said. “Frankly, it is difficult if not impossible for railroad management to have the objectivity to review its own police conduct in an unprejudiced way. The oversight has to come from a disinterested third party.”

Szabo said the best way to secure your legislator’s vote is simply to call his or her local office.

“If you don’t know you state representative’s name, simply use the search feature on the Illinois Legislative Board’s home page,” he said. “Go down the left-hand column to ‘Links to Useful Web Sites’ and click on ‘Legislator Lookup.’ Click on the tab labeled ‘Address,’ enter your street address and ZIP Code, and you’ll see a list of everyone who represents you in state government. The third name listed is your state representative. If you go to that individual’s Web site you will find the phone number of the district office.”

Szabo advised members to call the number and ask for the legislator’s support of H..B. 5159.

“Make your message short and to the point,” he said. “Introduce yourself by name and identify yourself as a railroad employee. Then simply say, ‘I would like to ask the Representative to support H.B. 5159.’

That’s all you need to say,” Szabo said.

“The vote in the House should be coming up soon, so we have to act now,” he said. “Making sure that railroad management doesn’t abuse its specially granted police powers and subjecting those powers to objective and independent public oversight is critical.”