April 1, 2004
SPRINGFIELD (April 1)—Urged on by the Illinois General Assembly’s only UTU member, State Rep. Eddie Washington (D-North Chicago), the Illinois House of Representatives this afternoon passed UTU-backed walkway safety legislation by a vote of 117-0.
If the measure, known as H.B. 5340, goes on to pass the Senate, Illinois will join a number of states that have mandated their regulatory authorities to promulgate rules assuring a reasonably flat, smooth walkway free of debris, obstacles and hazards for all railroad employees who work on the ground.
“Eddie Washington really hit in the clutch for walkway safety,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “When another bill (HB 4881) that included a walkway-safety provision got stranded in bickering over an unrelated issue, Eddie quickly stepped up to the plate and rescued the walkway-safety language by putting it into another piece of legislation.
“Although the deadline for introducing new legislation had long passed, with the help of Speaker Madigan, Eddie took one of the ‘shell bills’ the Speaker had introduced at the start of the Session last fall and inserted the walkway-safety language into it,” Szabo said.
“Eddie introduced the new bill, got it approved by the Executive Committee, won the support of Transp. Committee Chairman Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville), and today rallied his fellow legislators on the floor to vote for it. With our members blitzing their state reps with phone calls the bill gathered incredible momentum. The whole thing took only about 36 hours.”
Szabo said the union’s input work saved the walkway-safety measure in three ways.
“First, you have to credit the initiative, determination and legislative savvy displayed by our own Eddie Washington,” Szabo said. “He was totally dedicated to walkway safety and knew exactly what to do. So did Speaker Madigan.
“Second, you have to credit the increasing activism of our members with their contributions to UTU-PAC. Their willingness to support the candidacy of pro-union legislators means the UTU has more friends than ever in Springfield and those friends respect the union’s political strength and professionalism.
“And finally, you have to credit the quick response our members showed when we asked them to blitz their state reps with phone calls supporting H.B. 5340. The outpouring of phone calls came right on schedule, and the results are what we saw on the floor of the House chamber today.”
Szabo said he hopes that high level of involvement will be maintained later in the month, when H.B. 5340 moves to the Senate for a vote. He indicated that he expects a much stronger challenge from Norfolk Southern and Canadian National in the Senate.
“We moved so fast in the House that NS and CN had little time to react. We won’t have that luxury in the Senate,” he said.
“The General Assembly is going on a two-week Easter recess, so the bill will not be voted on in the Senate until sometime after the General Assembly reconvenes on April 20,” Szabo said.
“But that doesn’t mean our members should not be active. During the recess almost all of the senators will be back in their District offices, which means our members not only can call them but visit them and tell them personally about why walkway safety is important.
“So don’t be shy just because you’ve never met a politician before,” Szabo said. “They love to meet voters, and they want to know what the voters care about, because meeting voter needs is the way they keep their jobs. Just call up the District office, tell them you’re a UTU member and you’d like a brief appointment to talk with your senator about H.B. 5340. You will be welcomed.”