July 18, 2007

CHICAGO (July 18)—The Illinois Legislative Board’s ongoing effort to ensure clean and functional locker-room and washroom facilities for all of the state’s train crews built to a crescendo this month when resolution was reached with four different carriers.

And in a particularly encouraging note, three of the carriers—CSX Corp., Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific–acted to correct their defective crew buildings without having to be ordered to do so by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

A UTU complaint about CSX’s Barr yard in Riverdale was remedied without the need for a Commission hearing. While a hearing was initiated regarding CP’s Bensenville Yard, it was never completed because a CP assistant vice president convened a labor-management committee that came up with a solution the carrier subsequently carried out.

“And in the case of Union Pacific at Dupo we never even had to file formally with the Commission,” said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “We performed an ‘informal inspection’ with Commission Staff and when UP was advised that facility there was overcrowded and didn’t have enough lockers, they complied voluntarily by building a new, well designed facility.”

The longest–and hardest-fought–victory, however, came at Kansas City Southern’s East St. Louis Yard, where the carrier resisted both the UTU’s complaint and the recommendations of the Commission staff until a July 11 Commission Ruling finally resolved the issue.

The case began in 2003, when KCS demolished its old East St. Louis crew building, leaving its crews there totally without locker facilities for a month until the railroad brought in a trailer with lockers, showers and lunchroom tables that proved grossly inadequate for the number of employees.

In 2004 the Illinois Legislative Board filed a Formal Complaint asking the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to order the railroad to build a new crew building with sufficient interior space and amenities for all crew members assigned to the yard. The union also asked the Commission to fine the carrier for its slow responses to both union and Commission demands.

But the case took a twist in December of 2006 when KCS tried to close the yard and outsource its work to the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA). Ultimately, KCS kept the yard open but at a lower level of staffing which ended the overcrowding in the crew shelter. The existing space is to be redesigned for a functional facility to meet the needs of approximately 40 employees.

When the Commission issued its July 11 Order it accepted the plan jointly designed by KCS, UTU and Commission Staff which will redesign and reallocate how KCS utilizes space in it’s two modular buildings. The order requires KCS to complete its update within 60 days and to maintain the facility in a clean and sanitary condition.

The Commission further asserted that it would retain jurisdiction over the facility, based on UTU’s request. “While the existing design will be functional for some 40 employees, if employment grows back to the previous levels of 60-70 we will need a larger facility,” Szabo said. “We asked the Commission for some time to see how employment levels off.

“Meanwhile, we are starting to see a more cooperative attitude on most other carriers,” Szabo said.

“The CSX crew shelter at Barr Yard did not have the square footage required for the number of employees stationed there, and the locker room was dilapidated and was not being cleaned often enough,” he said. “We filed a docket with the Commission and initiated a Formal Complaint, but it never came to a hearing because the railroad voluntarily came forwarded to remedy the defects. They converted some office space in the building into expanded locker-room space, increased the number of lockers from 180 to 230, installed new flooring, tile and paint and reconfigured the floor plan to provide three separate rooms with convenient access and functionality. Then they hired more cleaning personnel so they could clean it more often.”

Szabo said the Canadian Pacific also “did the right thing” after the union formally complained about the carrier’s 2004 removal of the Bensenville’s West End crew base and elimination of other buildings on the East End, leaving no convenient toilet facilities available.

“After some initial head-bumping, we really got cooperation from CP,” Szabo said. “Ass’t. Vice President Scott McDonald really stepped forward and established a labor-management task force to look into the problem and suggest solutions. Local management accepted the joint recommendations, which included high-quality, modular rest-room facility with separate rooms and amenities for male and female employees. One has been placed in the West End and another at the East End.”

Szabo said he thinks the voluntary nature of the latest settlements may indicate that the railroads better understand their legal obligations to provide sanitary and functional locker rooms, lunch rooms and toilets for their crews and UTU’s commitment towards enforcement.

“It was a little over five years ago that the Illinois Legislative Board began its campaign to get the state’s railroads to replace or upgrade any antiquated, dilapidated or unsanitary crews shelters,” he said. “When we started our efforts the railroads did little but stonewall and call in their lawyers. State government had not bothered them for nearly two decades, and they had assumed that violating the Illinois Administrative Code had no consequences.”

Szabo said the UTU responded by taking cases to the Commission with a Formal Complaint, requiring a hearing in a court-like setting, and winning every case.

“Those victories gave our members a tremendous morale boost,” he said “But in a sense those earlier legal victories were not as satisfying as the voluntary compliance we’re starting to see today. The early victories were victories of law enforcement. Today’s victories may well represent a change in attitude. It makes so much more sense to work together and do the right thing. Persistence pays off. Perhaps they’re starting to get it.”