June 28, 2011

CHICAGO (April 11)—Metra officials have notified State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines) that the agency’s passenger coaches will begin displaying warnings against assaulting employees and passengers.

UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy called the news “our first legislative victory of 2011.”

Nekritz introduced the measure, known as House Bill 2863, on February 22 at the UTU’s request. The bill was structured to amend the Public Conveyance Notice Act, which requires public-transit agencies to post notices advising passengers that assaulting or harming an employee or passenger can bring a Class A misdemeanor or Class 3 felony charge. A convicted offender could be sent to prison and/or fined up to $25,000.

Although notices of the penalty for assaulting employees or passengers are common on transit buses and rapid-transit trains, Metra had not provided its equipment with such warnings. But in an April 11 letter to Nekritz, Metra Chief Operations Officer William K. Tupper said the agency would begin posting the notices voluntarily and that “It is Metra’s intention to have these signs installed by the end of May.”

Tupper also noted that “This language has been approved by Bob Guy, Illinois Legislative Board, United Transportation Union.”

Guy called Metra’s decision to post the notices in advance of any legal compulsion to do so a “statesmanlike move.”

“I commend Mr. Tupper and new Executive Director Alex Clifford on their decision to voluntarily post these important warning notices,” Guy said. “Metra understood that these notices give our on-board personnel another valuable tool when dealing with passengers in a professional manner.”

Guy credited member activism for initiating the change.

“I want to commend our UTU locals that brought this issue forward,” Guy said. “Our union could not have introduced this legislation if member initiative had not been exercised first. The measure gained credibility with Metra management and with the General Assembly because our locals that represent Metra personnel truly felt these warning notices would enhance the safety and security of employees and passengers alike.”

Guy said experience at other agencies shows the decision was practical.

“The evidence indicates that assaults against employees and passengers are less frequent when passengers are advised of the possible consequences of their behavior,” he said. “When they see those notices, they should think twice. That’s good for our members, good for the passengers and good for the agency.”