June 13, 2003
CHICAGO (June 13)–The UTU’s Illinois Legislative Board today filed a Formal Complaint petitioning the Illinois Commerce Commission to hold hearings into Norfolk Southern Corp.’s continuing failure to repair the dilapidated crew shelter at its 55th Street Yard in Chicago.
The Complaint asks the Commission to fine the carrier for past violations already documented by Commission inspectors, and to order the railroad to bring the crumbling concrete-block building into compliance or else replace it with a modern and compliant facility containing gender-separate toilets and locker rooms and a properly heated and ventilated lunchroom area.
“It’s a shame we had to invoke a judicial proceeding such as a hearing to get Norfolk Southern to comply with state law, but at this point we had no other alternative,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.
“The unions and staff members from the Commerce Commission inspected the facility in the company of Norfolk Southern management,” Szabo said. “The Commerce Commission inspectors documented seven different violations of Part 1545 of the Illinois Administrative Code (IAC) and informed the railroad of their findings.
“Norfolk Southern management pledged both orally and in writing that they would do the right thing voluntarily and bring the facility into compliance,” Szabo said. “I sat down with both the superintendent and the regional vice president for government affairs. Both of them were pleasant and understanding and showed concern about the list of violations. But there has been no follow-through. The repairs have not been made.
“That left us no alternative,” said Szabo, “but to exercise our rights under the to law by petitioning the Commission to force the railroad to comply and to fine it for its repeated violations.”
In his Complaint Szabo charged that “The employee facilities at Norfolk Southern’s 55th Street Yard are inadequate and unsanitary.
“The facility lacks locker rooms for both men and women even though employees of both genders are stationed out of the facility,” Szabo wrote. “The existing locker room has lockers in disrepair and is improperly lighted, heated and ventilated, and is unsanitary. Cracks and holes in the exterior walls prevent protection from outside elements. Further, the locker room does not contain appropriate furniture to facilitate changing clothes.”
Commerce Commission Rail Safety Program Administrator Michael E. Stead informed the railroad of its non-compliance in a letter in 2002.
“A large number of the lockers were in disrepair and did not meet the standards set by IAC 1545,” Stead wrote. “The locker room was poorly lighted, heated and ventilated. The locker room walls have cracks in the mortar between the concrete blocks allowing the outside elements into the room. The locker rooms are not separated by gender, and the carrier has seven female employees working at the 55th Street facility. On the day of the inspection there were five employees in the locker room area, which had only one chair and no benches for employees to sit on when changing.”
Stead’s letter noted that NS had violated Paragraph 100 of Part 1545 by allowing drinking-water faucets to be taped shut and unhooked from the water supply. The carrier had provided bottled water but had failed to keep it cold and had not provided a refrigerator to chill liquids or meals carried by employees. In addition, Stead wrote:
“The toilet room adjoining the locker room wasn’t ventilated. The rings on the toilets were loose. The mortar on the concrete block walls has separated and daylight was shining through. The wall had separated from the roof and allowed water to leak into the restroom.”
Stead said the Commission’s inspector, Bob Wagoner, found there was no hot water for washing, the lunch room was “poorly lighted and ventilated” and the air conditioner was exhausting air into the room without cooling it.
“Mr. Stead concluded his letter by advising Norfolk Southern to repair the 55th Street Yard crew building, but that did not happen,” Szabo said. “The Illinois Legislative Board followed up by meeting with the 55th Street Trainmaster Ted Calhoun and receiving an oral commitment that the railroad would address all of the problems. I later memorialized these commitments to Mr. Calhoun in a letter I wrote late last year.”
Szabo said the UTU received a letter in which Calhoun claimed the carrier had received a bid on the repairs from one contractor and was awaiting a bid from a second. He said the bids would be “submitted for approval” and “Once approved then the work can begin.”
“But again nothing happened, and progress reports from Norfolk Southern ceased,” Szabo said. “Under the circumstances we really had no choice but to turn to the Commerce Commission for a remedy.
“The Commission has the power to fine the railroad, but that’s not what our people are looking for,” Szabo said. “They expect the company to keep its promise and install the improvements mandated by the IAC.”
Szabo summarized those improvements as “clean, functioning, sanitary and separate washroom facilities for the brothers and sisters; reliable heating, air conditioning and ventilation; a reliable supply of clean drinking water and hot water for washing; a solid, draft-free, leak-free building that keeps the elements outside, a secure locker for every employee, benches on which to sit while changing, and regular cleaning and sanitizing of all surfaces and all plumbing fixtures.
“That’s what’s in the law, and that’s what we expect Norfolk Southern and every other railroad doing business in Illinois to provide,” Szabo said. We are willing to meet with any carrier to discuss violations, but when jawboning doesn’t work the Illinois Legislative Board is more than willing to take action to insure the compliance our members are entitled to under law.”