March 2, 2011

SPRINGFIELD (March 2)—The UTU Illinois Legislative Board has introduced a pair of bills into the 97th Illinois General Assembly to address separate safety concerns raised by members in freight and passenger service.

“Each of these safety issues was brought to the attention of the Illinois Legislative Board after Local members voiced their concerns to their Local officers,” said Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy. “That’s precisely the way our organization works best.”

House Bill 2863, introduced Feb.22 by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines), would require Metra to display public notices aboard its trains advising passengers of the potential penalties under law should they assault or cause bodily harm to an individual whom they know to be an employee or fellow passenger.

“The Public Conveyance Notice Act already provides this form of protection to employees and riders of local public transit systems, but it is silent regarding commuter rail agencies,” Guy said. “HB 2863 would empower our Metra on-board personnel to advise troublesome passengers of the serious penalties they face if they choose to escalate a dispute. Passage of the act would enhance the professional performance of our Metra members while reducing the threat level to those members and to the passengers in their care.”

Guy pointed out that if belligerent passengers better understood the consequences they face for assaulting an employee or passenger they would be more likely to calm themselves rather than follow up on a threat.

“Experience gained at local transit agencies shows that passengers who understand the law do a better job of communicating with employees even when upset,” he said. “That’s important because none of our Metra members looks forward to a confrontation with a passenger. Unfortunately, it happens from time to time, but if the passenger has been publicly advised that he risks conviction for a Class A misdemeanor or a Class 3 felony, he is much more likely to discontinue his threatening behavior.

“The Public Conveyance Notice Act contains real penalties that have a positive effect on passenger behavior,” Guy said.

The second bill provides an additional level of workplace safety—on-board first-aid kits–for members in freight service who are transported to and from their assignments in contract-carrier vans.
House Bill 1573, introduced Feb. 15 by Rep. Thomas Holbrook (D-Belleville), mandates that “a vehicle operated by a contract carrier transporting railroad employees in the course of their employment shall be equipped with a readily available first aid kit.”

“Currently, first-aid kits are required on each train or engine and on railroad-owned vehicles, but the law was silent on contract-carrier vehicles,” Guy said. “If the new law is enacted, vans operated by a contract carrier will have to carry the same kind of first-aid kit now carried aboard trains,locomotives and railroad-owned vehicles.”

As in the case of the Public Conveyance Notice Act, the gap in the first-aid-kit legislation was noticed by members, who brought their concerns to their Local leadership.

“Some of our members noticed that their crew vans did not have these kits and asked their Local officers whether a law was needed to make them mandatory,” Guy said. “It turned out the members were right: There was a hole in the law but it could be filled by fresh language, which the Illinois Legislative Board provided and our good friend Rep. Holbrook introduced.

“If these bills are enacted, our railroad crews will have access to a first aid-kit throughout each tour of duty, whether they’re on board a train or being transported in a van,” he said.

Guy said the new safety measures are “living examples of effective member activism.”

“Our union is not a top-down organization in which a small number of officers tell the members what’s good for them,” Guy said. “It’s a bottom-up organization in which the members tell the leaders their concerns and those leaders then work to address those concerns with practical solutions.”