March 26, 2015

SPRINGFIELD (March 26)–State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) has introduced legislation in the General Assembly that would prohibit rail carriers from using information obtained from video event recorders in contract-carrier vans against railroad crew members riding as passengers.

Senate Bill 1834 amends the Illinois Vehicle Code with a new section titled 5/18c-7505: “Use of a video event recorder in disciplinary proceedings.” The section contains new language stating:

“A rail carrier shall be prohibited from using audio or video images obtained from a video event recorder, as allowed under…this code, originating within contract carrier vehicles transporting railroad employees in the course of their employment, in any disciplinary proceeding against an employee.”

“The SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Board felt it was important to seek this legislation at this time,” said State Legislative Director Robert W. Guy. “We have seen a rapid proliferation of these video event recorders (VERs) being used in contract carrier vehicles and, we want to make sure they are not subjected to abuse.”

Guy explained that the natural purpose of VERs is to capture evidence of risky driving habits and identify, prioritize and correct the causes, not to infringe on a passenger’s basic rights.

“The job of the camera is to provide a record of the van driver’s performance and the highway environment and situations through which the driver must navigate,” Guy said. “In the event of an accident, this record will enable law-enforcement authorities, the courts and insurance carriers to identify fault and assess damages on the appropriate parties.

“The VER’s purpose is not to gather information on the behavior of railroad employees traveling as passengers in the van,” he said. “That would be a distortion of its fundamental mission.”

Guy said the union sought the legislation as a means to begin dialogue on the topic because “the rail carriers historically have been very aggressive” in finding new ways to threaten employees with discipline.

“The new surveillance technologies represent a real breakthrough when employed ethically for genuine safety and security purposes, but they also can be a temptation for overzealous supervisors seeking to harass employees,” he said. “SMART-TD felt it would be better to act now and establish a clear set of ground rules for the use of this technology before it is introduced into the culture of intimidation that still prevails in many railroad workplaces.”

Guy said that SB 1834 initially cleared a Senate committee deadline this week, but work still needs to be done before it is ready to be brought to the floor for a vote.

“The Illinois Legislative Board will be pursuing this effort until the legislation is passed and sent to the governor,” he said. “Our members are entitled to basic rights when they are being transported in private, non-railroad owned vehicles.”