December 21, 2010

CHICAGO (Dec. 21)—Crews assigned to Canadian Pacific Railway’s Bensenville Yard just west of Chicago got a surprise when they read Notice No. 451 on October 1.

The bulletin said that as of Oct. 4—three days later—the reporting location for 15 regular yard jobs would be switched from the Main Yard Office to the East End of the intermodal ramp—1.8 miles away.

UTU Local 1433 Legislative Representative Tom Miller says he thought of two reasons why that notice might have been premature.

“Illinois Commerce Commission rules say that a railroad has to give 45 days’ notice of its intent to change the location of a sanitation facility,” Miller said.

“And the East End building does not have the utilities required to support a reporting point for 15 crews,” he added.

“It’s meant to serve as a small lunch and break room, not a crew base. There’s no room for the lockers you’d need for 15 crews to store all their gear, and the plumbing is just a couple of washrooms connected to a septic tank.”

Crews did the best they could. First they changed their clothes in the locker room at the General Yard Office. Then they drove to the East End building to officially “report.” When their shifts ended they repeated the ritual in reverse.

Miller said there seemed to have been some miscommunication between the carrier and the organization in regards to the process of conducting such a move,

“They thought the building had been updated,” he said.

Normally, Notice No. 451 might have been grounds for a Formal Complaint to the Commerce Commission. But UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy chose another approach.

First, he contacted the Illinois Commerce Commission, asking that an informal inspection be performed at the East End facility.

“The inspector visited October 12 and verified that the East End was not suitable to be used as a reporting point for that number of employees,” Guy said.

On October 15 Guy followed up with a phone call to CP Superintendent Blane Marien. He told the official a misunderstanding appeared to have taken place, and asked him to delay implementation of the move so that the process of changing the reporting location could be started up again, “from scratch,” which would allow CP to comply with the 45-day reporting requirement.

“We took our share of the responsibility for the miscommunication,” Guy said. “Given the circumstances, I was very happy to have the opportunity to discuss this issue with Mr. Marien personally. I think that helped in eventually getting the issue resolved.”

So when CP Notice No. 461 was issued Dec. 2 it included the following language:

“MOY Notice 451, portion reading Change in Reporting, is cancelled. All assignments that had been instructed to report to the East End lunchroom per MOY Notice 451 will revert to reporting to the General Yard Office until further notification.”

Guy said the decision to discuss the issue informally proved just as effective as filing a Formal Complaint but without the time, expense and ill will often generated by a hearing and a decision.

“In the end, cooler heads prevailed and all interested parties benefited,” he said. “Everybody is going back to square one. CP already has talked to construction people about expanding the East End building to make it a real locker room, and we expect they will soon issue a formal 45-day Notice to the ICC. For everyone’s sake, I wanted to give the railroad a chance to address the issue before proceeding with a more formal approach.”