November 10, 2006
CHICAGO (Nov. 10)—You won’t find it mentioned in any of the nationwide coverage, but the Democratic victory in Tuesday’s mid-term elections for U.S. Senator carried especially good news for the nation’s railroad workers: The Senate’s second most powerful officer will now be Democrat Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, a former rail worker and the son of two Downstate railroad employees.
Durbin, who served as Minority Whip when the Republicans controlled the Senate, now becomes the Whip for the majority party—a much more influential position, since it helps determine the key committee chairmanships and which bills get considered and sent to the floor and which ones die in committee.
Durbin will rank second in command behind only Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Senators Durbin and Reid met together with President Bush at the White House today to discuss their agenda for the new Senate that will convene in January.
“This is huge,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Dick Durbin has always voted in favor of legislation that protects the safety and rights of working people and their families. But he is especially attuned to the challenges that face railroad workers, because he came from a railroad background himself.”
Szabo noted that two of the three paragraphs in the capsule biography of Durbin on his Web site (http://www.dickdurbin.com/about?id=0001) specifically mention his railroad background.
“He grew up in the East St. Louis area when it consisted of almost nothing but railroad yards,” Durbin said. “His father worked in the yard for the New York Central there, and his uncle for the Pennsylvania. His mother, who was a Lithuanian immigrant, ran the New York Central switchboard. When Dick was a college student he worked summers as a clerk. The family depended on the railroad for its income, and later Railroad Retirement. Dick’s family understood from experience the good, the bad and the ugly about railroad employment.
“That background has stood Dick well in his legislative career,” Szabo said. “He has always been open and accessible to UTU, and we’ve never had to do a lot of explaining about what kind of legislation railroad workers need to protect their interests. He gets it. He’s been there. Whether it’s strengthening the Railroad Retirement Act, protecting crews against fatigue or the carriers’ attempt to get one-man crews, you don’t have to draw Dick a picture. He grasps all of the issues and he sees them from the railroad employee’s point of view.”
While primarily identified with the interests of railroad workers, Durbin also has a broad understanding of the economic importance of rail transportation in general and usually will work to advance it as long as employees are protected, Szabo said.
“We in Illinois are well aware of Dick Durbin’s successful efforts to secure expanded passenger rail service in our state,” Szabo said. “Once he takes over as Majority Whip in January I expect he not only will intensify the search for more Amtrak funding but will be a leader in the effort to secure more federal funding for rail infrastructure improvements that can help make expanded passenger rail service in our state and nation a reality.
“Dick Durbin knows what good rail service can do for the economy and well-being of the nation,” Szabo said. “Now’s he’s in a position to share that understanding with his colleagues and rally them behind sound federal/state rail-development programs. I think railroaders can look forward to the future a little more confidently today than they could a week ago. What a difference an election makes!”