September 4, 2003

CHICAGO (Sept. 4)—In a first-round score for the UTU, an Illinois Commerce Commission judge has rejected an effort by the Norfolk Southern Railroad to dismiss the Illinois Legislative Board’s June 13 Complaint about the carrier’s repeated failure to repair the dilapidated and unsanitary crew building at its 55th Street Yard in Chicago.

Administrative Law Judge June Tate issued her terse, 13-word denial August 29 and set a new date of October 1 for a hearing into the UTU Complaint.

A hearing had been scheduled for August 20, but before it could be held Norfolk Southern’s lawyers entered a Motion to have UTU’s Complaint dismissed. UTU’s legal team countered with a response that the judge found more persuasive and affirmed the union’s right to bring the Complaint.

“Norfolk Southern tried to have the case dismissed, but Judge Tate didn’t buy their argument,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Now that we’ve won Round One and the case is back on track we look forward to appearing before her October 1 and documenting our charges.”

Inspectors from the Commission already have visited the facility and corroborated a report by UTU Local 1895 Local Chairman and Legislative Rep. Rich Ross. The Commission inspectors agreed with Ross’s allegations that the building façade suffers from cracks that admit rain and drafts into the interior, that the toilets are not maintained in a sanitary condition, that the building lacks a separate locker room for female employees, that lack of furniture forces employees to change clothes while standing, and that the building lacks adequate heat, ventilation and refrigeration for employees’ food and beverage supplies.

All of the defects violate regulations the Commission is empowered to enforce.

“And since the Complaint was filed, a dead rat has been discovered in the building,” Szabo said. “Norfolk Southern really needs to get that building into compliance.”

And it will, Szabo said.

“Right always beats might—it just takes common sense, perseverance and patience,” he said.

Szabo said the union finds it “disappointing that Norfolk Southern prefers to spend resources on legal maneuvering when it could be doing the right thing by complying with the law and showing some respect for its employees.”

“A safe, structurally sound building with appropriate sanitary amenities should be a fundamental element of common decency, especially for a carrier that calls itself an industry leader,” he said. “For what Norfolk Southern is spending on expensive LaSalle Street lawyers they could have just fixed the building. Now it’s likely they’ll have to spend money on both.”