February 18, 2015

SPRINGFIELD (Feb. 18)—New legislation mandating increased insurance coverage for railroad employees injured while riding in a contract-carrier van has been introduced into the Illinois
House of Representatives at the urging of the SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Board.

House Bill 439 would raise the current minimum from $250,000 per passenger per incident to $1 million.

The new level of protection covers incidents in which a railroad employee is injured due to the negligence of an uninsured or under-insured motorist. It is the first major revision of contract-carrier safety legislation passed in 2005 following a campaign by SMART-TD’s predecessor, the United Transportation Union,

“When the original legislation was introduced ten years ago the coverage level of $250,000 would have provided a great deal of relief for an injured employee who couldn’t return to work,”
said Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy.

Guy said he contract-carrier safety code the UTU was advocating at that time was part of a larger legislative package that included a provision to prevent rail carriers from interfering with employees’ medical treatment and a separate law that would bar a railroad from receiving taxpayer grants for infrastructure improvements if the carrier was out of compliance with any of
the Illinois Commerce Commission’s workplace-safety rules.

“My predecessor, Joe Szabo, described that legislation as ‘very aggressive,’” and it was,” Guy said. “The General Assembly had never before been called on to provide railroad employees
with so many varieties of workplace safety at one time.”

To make the legislation acceptable to the members of the General Assembly, the uninsured-motorist coverage imposed on the contract-carrier members was set somewhat low, Guy said.

“It’s been a decade since that legislation passed, and now the time has come to increase the minimum coverage,” he said. “We need to revisit the language and raise the benefits to reflect current realities.”

Guy explained that the financial stakes for an injured employee are much higher than they were when the original legislation was passed ten years ago.

“The fact is, a railroad worker seriously injured in a crew-van accident faces tremendous financial losses,” he said. “Medical treatment and rehabilitation therapies have improved dramatically in the last 10 years, but they also have become very expensive.

“The stakes also are bigger for an employee who loses time at work or cannot return to work at all,” Guy said. “Railroad workers are well paid, and the loss of earning potential suffered as a
result of a crew-van accident can wipe out a family’s finances. H.B. 439 addresses that threat.

“And we’ll work hard to see that it becomes a reality,” he said.
“Members should be ready to contact their State Representatives once H.B. 439 begins to move toward a vote on the floor.

“We’ll let you know when that happens. Our legislation moves through the General Assembly a lot easier when our members take to the phones.”