May 22, 2007

SPRINGFIELD (May 22)—Railroad employees who testify about unsafe working conditions to the Illinois General Assembly or before an administrative hearing at the Illinois Commerce Commission will soon be assured of protection against employer retaliation under an amendment to the Illinois “Whistleblower” law.

And they can thank the UTU Illinois Legislative Board and the Illinois AFL-CIO for the extra protection now awaiting Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s signature.

“The amendment unanimously passed the Senate May 16 after previously having passed the House by a unanimous vote,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “It clarifies some vague language and reassures that our members are protected when they testify before the state about workplace safety violations.”

Szabo said the original Illinois Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act’s language stated that “An employer may not retaliate against an employee for disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency.”

However, the language was vague when it came to testimony before the General Assembly or in an Administrative Hearing like those used to enforce the state rail safety codes.

The General Assembly is a “legislature” rather than “government agency” or “law enforcement agency.” And the Illinois Commerce Commission could be viewed as an “administrative body” rather than a “law-enforcement” agency with police powers.

“The new language I asked the AFL-CIO draft clarifies interpretation and closes any possible loophole,” Szabo said. “It specifically says, ‘An employer may not retaliate against an employee who discloses information in a court, an administrative hearing, or before a legislative commission or committee, where the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses a violation of a State or federal law, rule or regulation.’

“That makes the whistle-blowing employee’s protection complete,” Szabo said. It’s unfortunate that we are dealing with an industry that likes to silence criticism or any exposure to the truth, but we know what we deal with every day in the real railroad world. But it’s fortunate that rail employees have a strong union – and the AFL-CIO – that can secure for employees the legal protection to which they are entitled.”