June 11, 2004
CHICAGO (June 11)—Illinois-based train crews on the Iowa Interstate Railroad now have access to the same on-board chilled-and-bottled water as their colleagues on other railroads, thanks to an 18-month legal battle by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board.
An Iowa Interstate official reported May 19 that the railroad would come into compliance with Section 1545.100 of the Illinois Administrative Code, as well as with an Order issued last September 30 by Illinois Commerce Commission Administrative Law Judge June Tate.
“There is one word for this development, and that word is ‘victory,’ said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “It took a year and a half of hard work that should never have been necessary, but our work has been successful. Our Illinois members on the Iowa Interstate will be furnished with individual sealed bottles of drinking water, and the locomotives will be equipped with chest-type coolers furnished and maintained by the railroad at its own expense. That’s all we ever asked for.”
Szabo pointed out that the drinking-water format to which Iowa Interstate finally agreed under Order of the Commission is “the same one that is utilized by virtually every railroad operating throughout the nation.”
Until last year’s ruling by Judge Tate, however, Iowa Interstate officials had insisted that the railroad could meet the conditions of Section 1545.100 simply by providing a water dispenser in the crew room where crew members could fill their own personal container. “In essence, Iowa Interstate was saying there’s the spigot, now you’re on your own,” Szabo said.
On December 3, 2003 the Commission issued an Order finding IAIS in noncompliance, and gave the carrier until June 3, 2004 to provide drinking water in accordance with Illinois law. The carrier then proposed to issue each crew member a gallon plastic jug which the crew member could wash, maintain and replenish at a tap in the locker room.
“That is not what Illinois law says,” Szabo noted. “The law says the railroad is required to both “provide and maintain” the drinking water and utensils in a sanitary manner – it is not a responsibility that they can shift to the crews.”
Facing fines of up to $1,000 per day for a failure to comply by June 3rd, in a May 19 letter to the Illinois Commerce Commission, Iowa Interstate Chief Transportation Officer Michael S. Wacker reported that the railroad would supply individual bottles of sealed drinking water on its locomotives in Illinois, as well as an on-board ice chest and a supply of ice where employees can store their water.
Wacker reported that the bottles would hold between six and twenty ounces each and that enough water would be available to last each employee through a 12-hour shift.
The railroad also said it would maintain the ice chests.
“All functional chest-type coolers shall be thoroughly clean & sanitized by the Iowa Interstate Railroad at reasonable intervals as often as necessary to assure that they are maintained in a clean and sanitary condition,” Wacker told Mike Stead, Rail Safety Program Manager for the Commission. “The distribution of the product will begin June 1st, 2004.”
“This has been a long fight,” Szabo said. “But, our members on the Iowa Interstate are at last enjoying the health and safety amenities to which they are entitled under Illinois law.”
The “fight” Szabo referred to goes back at least a year and a half, but the conditions that led the union to challenge the railroad before the Commission began building up almost three years ago.
Following a series of documented complaints initiated by then UTU Local 258 Legislative Director Jeff Fugate, the Illinois Legislative Board filed a Formal Complaint with the Illinois Commerce Commission in March 2003 charging the rail carrier with failing to provide train-crew members with on-board drinking-water as mandated by the Illinois Administrative Code.
The union also charged the carrier with maintaining an unsanitary and dilapidated crew based at Rock Island, and a hearing on both charges was held before Judge Tate.
In her September ruling Judge Tate ordered the carrier to remedy both sets of violations, but until June 1 only the rehabilitation of the crew base had been addressed by IAIS.
Szabo said, however, that the railroad’s ultimate decision to come into compliance in Illinois shows “the process works.”
“What we’ve accomplished in Rock Island demonstrates that when members know something is wrong, they can bring about change if they document what they see and if they work with their union leadership to secure a remedy.
“The law is the process– the union is the mechanism that makes it work,” Szabo said. “When we get active, we get results.”