May 25, 2005

SPRINGFIELD (May 28)—In the last frenzied moments before final adjournment the Illinois House voted today to concur with a Senate version of H.B. 2449, making the UTU’s long-awaited employee medical-treatment protection bill eligible for the governor’s signature and enactment into law.

“This is a total victory for the UTU membership and a victory BY the UTU membership,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “They chose to use their power and really showed their power. Individual contacts from constituents were the main reason legislators agreed to pass this precedent-setting legislation. It really shows what organized employees can bring to bear on government when they coordinate their efforts and act as a unified team.”

Introduced Feb.18 by the only UTU member in the General Assembly, State Rep. Eddie Washington (D-North Chicago), H.B. 2449 set out to end a string of managerial abuses that all of the railroad crafts had been reporting to their union leaders for years.

“Eddie brought a lot of passion and a lot of personal experience to this fight because of his own railroad background,” Szabo said. “And when we organized our telephone campaign, our members brought their own experiences to the attention of the legislators. They didn’t just phone in their opinions. They phoned in their case histories. Even if they hadn’t been denied medical treatment, they usually knew a co-worker who had. Their calls had the ring of authenticity.”

Szabo said H.B. 2449 was “precedent-setting” for the nation because once the bill is signed, Illinois will become the first state to bring severe financial penalties to bear on any railroad whose managers attempt to deny or delay medical treatment from an employee injured in the workplace, or who attempt to interfere with a course of medical treatment after it is under way.

“The bill will fine a railroad up to $10,000 for each violation,” he said, noting that each separate attempt to interfere with an employee’s treatment can be counted as a violation.

“Suppose an employee stumbles in a railroad yard and hurts his knee and tells his supervisor he needs to see a physician,” Szabo said. “Instead of taking him to the emergency room, the trainmaster tells him to wait and fill out an accident report or make a formal statement before he can go to the doctor.

“That counts as one violation,” Szabo said. “It’s a delay to prompt medical treatment. If proved, it could result in the Illinois Commerce Commission fining the railroad up to $10,000.

“Now let’s say an hour or two passes and the employee’s supervisor finally takes him to the doctor’s office,” Szabo said. But if the supervisor goes into the consulting room with the employee, that breaches the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship. That would be construed as an attempt to interfere with the employee’s treatment—a second violation–and could result in another fine of up to $10,000.

“Finally, suppose the same employee receives a prescription for pain-relieving drugs—and the supervisor asks the doctor whether an over-the-counter medication can be substituted. This, too, is an attempt to interfere with the employee’s medical treatment and could bring an additional fine”.

Because H.B. 2449 labels each act of attempted delay, denial or interference as a separate count, the same injury could result in an employer being fined multiple times in connection with the same injury, Szabo said.

“Depending upon the acts committed by an employer, the cost to the carrier could run as high as $30,0000 – $50,000 or more,” he said.

In addition to active membership involvement, Szabo credited Assistant State Director John Burner for his never wavering efforts. “John took this bill so personally and literally worked himself to the ground to ensure passage,” Szabo said. “Nothing feels better than knowing you have made a difference for others.”

Szabo was also quick to credit Alternate State Director Bob Guy. “John Burner is so well established and has developed such a personal report with the Representatives and Senators,” Szabo said. “But on this bill, Bob Guy so solidly established himself as a real player in the State House”

“Teamwork brings victories,” Szabo said. “And the teamwork of members across the state – along with their UTU team in Springfield – achieved this total victory.”