November 9, 2009
CHICAGO (Nov. 9)—After two years of discussions spearheaded by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board, the state’s rail carriers, rail labor, the Illinois AFL-CIO and the Illinois Commerce Commission have completed a rulemaking process that updates the Commission’s sanitation and shelter standards for railroad employee facilities.
“The revision was long overdue,” said Illinois Legislative Director Bob Guy, who noted that several of the rules were so antiquated that modern public-health experts considered them primitive.
“The rules for lockers dated back to the time when lockers were made of wood,” Guy said. “I would imagine there’s a fairly large number of our members who have never seen a wooden locker. The sanitation measures for track crews working outside of yard limits had been written before the development of portable chemical toilets. And the language regarding separate locker rooms, toilets and showers for female employees was way behind the times. There was widespread agreement that some of these practices simply weren’t acceptable anymore.”
Guy said the effort to update the Commission’s rules began more than two years ago when his predecessors, Joseph C. Szabo, and retired Ass’t. Legislative Dir. John Burner, joined the state’s other rail labor groups in an effort to review all of the language in Part 1545 of the Illinois Administrative Code. Part 1545 deals specifically with the provision, construction and maintenance of sanitation and shelter facilities for rail carrier employees.
“Getting the code revised and updated was a major priority of Joe’s, and he entrusted John Burner and myself to work with him on it,” Guy said.
Although the process didn’t require legislation, it did require a lengthy administrative process.
“Joe knew the process would be successful only if it was truly collaborative,” Guy said. “Rail labor, the carriers, the Commission—everybody had to be in it and contributing input right from the beginning.”
Guy said the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees was particularly appreciative of the chance to take part in the revisions.
“Some of the language related to camp cars was very outdated,” he said.
The railroads, too, understood the need to bring the code up to date, even though they knew modern standards might subject them to some additional financial burdens.
“Some of the carriers weren’t as forthcoming as others, but the leaders understood that the Code was outdated,” he said. “They realized that overcrowded, unsanitary and non-functional facilities–and in some instances a total absence of facilities–no longer could be tolerated, and they knew that poor shelter facilities were hindering the ability of employees to perform their duties.”
Guy said a major contribution to the rulemaking process came from UTU’s Larry Mann, an expert on railroad safety and sanitation standards who has helped the Illinois Legislative Board many times over the years.
“Larry is absolutely the best in the business,” Guy said. “He knows these issues like the back of his hand.”
Guy said the effort to update Part 1545 represents only the latest development in the Illinois Legislative Board’s multi-year effort to make sure that all of the state’s rail employees have sanitation and shelter facilities that meet current standards.
The effort actually dates back to 2002, when members began complaining about substandard conditions in some carriers’ locker rooms, Guy said.
“Joe and John began researching the code and found that the members were right,” Guy said. “John began traveling the state and rating each crew facility.”
The result was a series of Complaints filed by the Illinois Legislative Board with the Commission over the next few years.
These complaints included Kansas City Southern’s shelter at East St. Louis, the Iowa Interstate crew base at Silvis, Norfolk Southern’s 55th Street crew shelter in Chicago, Alton & Southern’s yard in East St. Louis, CSX’s Barr Yard in Riverdale, and the Canadian Pacific crew shelters in Bensenville Yard. In all cases the Commission found in favor of the UTU and ordered the carriers to update their facilities.
The UTU’s biggest victory came at Norfolk Southern’s 55th Street Yard in Chicago, where Commission inspectors found rainwater leaking through cracks in the roof, no separate facilities for female employees, non-functioning showers, a locker room without benches, rat infestation and even a tree growing through a crack in the floor. The carrier ignored the union’s pleas for relief for more than a year but eventually was ordered by the Commission to demolish the facility and replace it with a new one.
“Joe really worked hard on that one,” Guy said. “Thanks to his and John’s efforts, our members working throughout the state enjoy updated and improved facility standards.
Guy said the amendments to Part 1545 are “a testament to what can be accomplished when our members become engaged and document cases in which they believe the carrier is providing substandard conditions.”
“Remember, this all started on the local level and mushroomed into a ‘new-and-improved’ Administrative Code,” He said.
All Illinois Legislative Representatives have been supplied with the amended and updated Part 1545 for their personal reference and files. As always, anyone can reference Part 1545 and other relevant laws and regulations relating to the railroad industry by visiting the Illinois Legislative Board Web site at www.illini.utu.org.