March 31, 2004

SPRINGFIELD (March 31)—The UTU Illinois Legislative Board has issued a call for all members to contact their state representatives and ask them to vote “Yes” on a new bill mandating safe and obstacle-free walkways for all Illinois railroad employees who work on the ground.

The new legislation, H.B. 5340, was introduced in the Executive Committee of the Illinois House this morning by the only UTU member serving in the General Assembly, State Rep. Eddie Washington (D-North Chicago). Rep. Washington testified to the measure’s necessity. The Norfolk Southern Railway was the only party to testify against the bill, which the Committee quickly approved by a 12-0 vote.

H.B. 5340 was introduced after another bill containing the walkway provision, H.B. 4881, became snagged in negotiations on an agreed-to amendment.

“All members should contact their state representative immediately—I mean now—and ask him or her to vote ‘Yes’ on H.B. 5340,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “The legislation will go to a vote on the House floor Thursday or Friday. We have almost zero time left.”

Szabo said the short time frame makes it impractical to use letters, faxes or e-mails, which sometimes are overlooked or set aside.

“Simply pick up the phone and call,” Szabo said. “Phone calls are always logged, and they are always taken seriously. Tell whoever answers the phone you want your representative to vote for H.B. 5340.”

Szabo said the sudden emergence of H.B. 5340 came in response to an unexpected delay in agreement on an amendment to H.B. 4881. Drafted primarily to consolidate the rail-safety responsibilities of the Illinois Commerce Commission into the Illinois Department of Transportation, that bill also contained language mandating a walkway safety rulemaking for the state’s railroad yards.

When it became apparent that a delay in passing H.B. 4881 might delay walkway safety as well, Szabo said, House Speaker Michael Madigan trotted out a legislative stratagem that provided the walkway-safety issue with a bill of its own, even though the deadline for introducing new legislation was long past.

“He used a ‘shell bill’ that was introduced at the start of the Session, and he allowed the walkway-safety language from H.B. 4881 to be inserted into it,” Szabo said.

But the efforts of friends like Speaker Madigan and Rep. Washington have taken the new walkway-safety bill as far as it can go, Szabo said.

“Now it’s up to our members and their families and friends,” Szabo said. “We have to get on the phone and call up our state representatives and urge them to vote for this bill. Member involvement and member action are the only things that will take us the last mile.”

Szabo said that if you do not know how to reach your state representative, go to the Illinois Legislative Board’s Home Page and scroll down the left margin to “Links to Useful Web Sites.”

“When you’ve entered that link, click on ‘State Agencies,’ and up near the top you’ll find ‘Illinois General Assembly,’” he said. “If you know your representative’s name but don’t know the phone number, just click on ‘House’ and scroll down the list of names. When you click your rep’s name, the phone numbers of the District office and the Springfield office will appear.

“If you don’t know the name of your representative, scroll down to ‘Additional Resources’ and click on ‘Legislative Lookup,’” Szabo said. “At the bottom you’ll find a place to enter your ZIP code. If you enter all nine digits and click you will get the names of your state senator and state representative, including local and Springfield phone numbers.

“Call your state representative and tell the person who answers the phone that you are urging your representative to vote ‘Yes’ on H.B. 5340. And ask your friends and family members to do the same.

“UTU’s own Eddie Washington has done a great job in giving the walkway-safety legislation new life,” Szabo said. “Now it’s up to the rest of us to follow through. Let’s make those calls. The future of our walkway-safety legislation is in your hands.”