February 14, 2002

CHICAGO-Do you enjoy taking a hot shower and changing into fresh clothes after a day’s work?

Sure, who doesn’t?

But did you know that you actually have a legal RIGHT to take that shower?

You do if you’re an Illinois railroad worker. And thanks to the UTU Illinois Legislative Board, inspectors from the Illinois Commerce Commission are going to make regular visits to railroad welfare rooms to make sure that the carriers are providing their employees with sanitary, well maintained shower, toilet and locker facilities.

“It all came about because we were researching the Illinois statutes applying to railroads,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “One of the laws we came across was the Employee Washroom Act, which was passed by the General Assembly in 1913. It said that all railroad crew bases, shops and yards in the state must be equipped with a clean, sanitary and functioning shower room, as well as indoor toilets and a secure lockers where employees can keep an extra set of clothing.

“The Act doesn’t pertain strictly to railroads,” Szabo said. “It covers all industries in which employees are likely to come into contact with smoke, dirt, grease, oils or dust, such as mining, steel mills, foundries and machine shops.”

In addition to mandating that the employer provide washrooms and lockers, the Employee Washroom Act provides that the State shall inspect those facilities ‘regularly,’ something that hasn’t always been done in recent years,” Szabo said.

“I think there may have been a presumption that since the railroads eliminated steam locomotives there’s no longer a problem with dirt,” he said. “Anyone who works on a railroad knows that’s not true.” Szabo said he and Assistant Legislative Director John Burner spoke with the Illinois Commerce Commission about the need to resume regular inspections, and Commission officials agreed.

“In fact, a couple of facilities already have received visits from an ICC inspector, and inspections for the rest are being scheduled now,” Szabo said. “Most will be inspected once a year, depending on the workload the Commission has.”

Szabo said the union is doing its part by making sure state officials have an up-to-date list of all railroad welfare rooms in Illinois.

“John Burner has taken responsibility for this project,” he said. “He’s compiling an inventory of all railroad-owned washroom and locker facilities and rating their acceptability on a scale of one to ten.”

Szabo said that resumption of regular state inspections does not eliminate the need for employees to write up and file complaints if they discover health or safety violations at the facilities they use.

“Any dangerous or unsanitary conditions should be reported immediately to your supervisor at work,” he said. “If that doesn’t work, it should be brought to my attention. In fact, we will soon have a standard complaint form on the Web site for members to contact the union about any maintenance failures at welfare facilities.”