August 20, 2002
CHICAGO (Aug. 20)–When UTU leaders urge members to get more involved in politics, they usually mean one thing: Join the Transportation Political Education League (TPEL) and start supporting the campaigns of pro-labor candidates.
But at least one UTU member in Illinois isn’t content to support a political candidate. He IS one.
Metra conductor Eddie Washington, 49, of Waukegan, beat two rivals in the Primary Election this spring to emerge as the Democratic candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives in the newly created 60th District. And since the 60th emerged from the redistricting process with a 70-75-per-cent Democratic majority, Washington is rated a likely winner.
“Eddie Washington could turn out to be the first working railroad employee to serve in the General Assembly in more than half a century,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “I’m sure there were some who did it back in the first half of the 20th century, when railroad employment in the state was much higher than it is now, but a lot of time has passed since then. As far as I’m concerned, Eddie’s election to the legislature would be a ‘first’ in modern times.
But it wouldn’t be the first time the East St. Louis native has been involved in politics.
“Ever since I moved up to North Chicago in 1985 I’ve been involved in some sort of community action or political activity,” Washington said. “I started out working with the Power Street Association in Waukegan, which was just a little neighborhood crime-watch association. Now it’s a major grass-roots organization based in Lake County and the name is POWER–People Organized and Working for Equal Respect.”
Washington says one of his proudest moments as Chairman of POWER will come November 10, when former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) will address the organization about his role in helping it secure passage of a bill to prevent banks and financial institutions from witholding mortgage money needed by residents of poorer neighborhoods to improve their property.
Washington’s leadership also became recognized when he served as Director of the Lake County Urban League’s Economic Development Commission.
“I gained a lot of notoriety back in the 80s helping people get good jobs at good wages,” he said. “I’m particularly happy about the way I exposed the Lake County Forest Preserve District for not hiring a single African-American in 18 years. I still keep the newspaper clippings of that story.”
Washington also has served as a director of the Staben Center homeless shelter, a member of the Waukegan Economic Development Commission, and a member of the prestigious prison-reform advocacy group, the John Howard Association.
“And I am the first black person ever to serve as Chairman of the Waukegan Democratic Organization,” he says proudly. “I’ve served two years and will be relinquishing that post later this year, along with the chairmanship of POWER.”
Washington, who is married and the father of seven, has managed to juggle his many civic activities with full-time work as a conductor on Metra’s former Milwaukee Road West Line and membership in Local 1258 in Elgin. During the campaign, however, he has been working as an extra pilot at Metra’s Western Avenue Yard, shuttling commuter equipment between the yard and Chicago Union Station. Although he hired out with the Missouri Pacific Railroad at Granite City back in the 1970s, the job ended after 59 days when a business downturn forced the carrier to furlough several new hires.
“I loved working on the railroad, but it was not to be,” he said. Washington did not work on the railroad again until joining Metra in 1995.
Asked what his platform will be as Election Day approaches, Washington responded: “I’m definitely pro-labor. Anyone who knows me knows that’s a given.”
Then, speaking as if he were soliciting the votes of fellow railroaders, Washington added:
“We,the labor force, have to work together. Some of the younger hires don’t understand the sacrifices that were made by earlier generations of union activists to secure the wages and benefits all of us take for granted today. I intend to work closely with Joe Szabo on legislation that will will protect what others have built.