May 17, 2004

SPRINGFIELD (May 17)—In a unanimous vote of 55-0, the Illinois Senate passed H.B. 5340, the first legislation mandating that every railroad yard in the state must provide its employees with safe, stable, level and obstacle-free walkways in locations where work is regularly performed on the ground.

Because the bill already passed the Illinois House, it requires only the signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich to become law. When that happens, H.B. 5340 will become effective immediately.

“The passage of this landmark legislation is a great triumph for UTU members, not only because UTU members stand to benefit from it, but also because so many of them contributed their own time and effort to getting it passed,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

Szabo said UTU members made hundreds of phone calls—first to their state representatives when the measure was being considered in the House, and then to their state senators after the House passed the bill and sent it to the Upper Chamber.

“It was member outreach that did the job—no doubt about it,” he said. “Our members and retirees have suffered the injuries and seen the deaths caused by oversized ballast and unstable or obstructed walkways. They communicated that to their elected representatives very effectively.”

One measure of that effectiveness, Szabo said, was that the bill passed both houses unanimously. Szabo also praised the tenacity of Assistant Director John Burner and Alternate Director Bob Guy.

Szabo said most of the House and Senate members apparently agreed that “the bill is just common sense.”

“Some type of walkway standard is in effect in many other states, and when the UTU decided to push for a regulation in Illinois we used existing language as a model. It was something several railroads were used to and we were able to convince them to support us in this effort.

“Unfortunately, not all of the carriers agreed to support the Illinois effort,” Szabo said. “Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and CSX and saw no objections, but Norfolk Southern and Canadian National fought it and at one point early this year they succeeded in hanging up a regulation at the Illinois Commerce Commission.”

But UTU never accepted that bureaucratic stalling as a final defeat.

“I said at that time that this process was like a baseball game, with many opportunities to score and many more innings to be played,” Szabo said.

“That turned out to be true. We came up to bat again, we hit in the clutch and we started scoring. Now we’ve got a huge lead with two out in the ninth. All it takes is the Governor’s signature and this ball game is all over.”