April 21, 2004

SPRINGFIELD (April 21)—The UTU’s walkway-safety bill passed its second-to-last hurdle today when it was approved unanimously by the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee.

H.B. 5340, which passed the House of Representatives April 1 by a vote of 117-0, will now go to the Senate floor for a vote early next week. Its lead sponsor in the upper chamber will be State Sen. Debbie Halvorson (D-Chicago Heights). One of her constituents, Stephen Hall, was fatally injured January 14 while performing a switching operation in the Norfolk Southern Railroad’s yard in Kankakee.

“The Transportation Committee approved the walkway-safety bill by a vote of 10-0, even though a Norfolk Southern representative testified against it,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“I think the Committee responded positively on H.B. 5340 for two reasons,” Szabo said: “Our rank-and-file members really reached out to Transportation Committee members with office visits during the Easter recess when their senators were back home in their districts. They did an outstanding job of making the case for walkway safety.

“Plus our Assistant Legislative Director, John Burner, and our Alternate Director, Bob Guy, really got around the State Capitol last week and effectively reinforced the message these ten senators had heard from the members during the recess. The cooperation between the members and the leadership led to a virtually unprecedented outpouring of bi-partisan support for this bill.”

Szabo said the joint advance work made it virtually unnecessary for him to testify in favor of H.B. 5340.

“That was the shortest testimony I ever gave,” he said after today’s Committee meeting. “I didn’t have to say much, and the senators didn’t have to ask me much, because our members already had pre-sold them on why railroad employees need a smooth, level and unobstructed walkway on which to work.”

Szabo urged all members to continue that effort the rest of this week and early next week as H.B. 5340 moves toward a final vote on the Senate floor.

“Those members with senators on the Transportation Committee did an outstanding job of reaching out during the recess,” Szabo said. “Now that H.B. 5340 is coming up for a vote by the full Senate, we need a total outreach—all members now need to reach out to their senators.

“So call your senator now—either at the Springfield office or the district office—and tell the staffer who handles your call that you’re a railroad employee and you are urging your senator to vote ‘Yes’ when H.B. 5340 comes up for a vote.

“We have proven how effective we can be when we take action,” Szabo said. “One more outreach effort will do the job and make safe walkways a reality for every railroader in Illinois.”