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UTU action brings new NS 55th St. Crew Facility in Chicago; five other carriers plan upgrades/new construction statewide as enforcement continues
[09/29/2005]

CHICAGO (Sept. 27)—Norfolk Southern has opened a new state-of-the art facility at its 55th street yard in Chicago, and five other carriers in Illinois are planning to renovate or construct new crew shelters following complaints filed by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board.

According to UTU State Legislative Director Joe Szabo, the current locker-room projects are as follows:

• After a Formal Complaint filed by UTU before an Illinois Commerce Commission administrative law judge and a three-year battle, Norfolk Southern’s long-awaited 55th Street facility has opened.

• After an informal complaint by UTU, BNSF has submitted plans and a construction timeline to the ICC and UTU for the modernization of two major Chicago facilities, Corwith Yard on the former Santa Fe and Cicero Yard on the former Burlington Northern.

• Alton & Southern performed major upgrades on its East St. Lois facilities after UTU complaints.

• Union Pacific has submitted plans to the ICC to renovate and expand its Dupo Yard Office facilities, after UTU requested an ICC inspection.

• Amtrak is preparing plans to modernize its 14th street facility in Chicago.

• UTU has filed a Formal Complaint with an ICC administrative law judge regarding CSX’s Barr Yard in Riverdale. The carrier has offered to present plans for possible renovations, expansion or new construction by years end to bring the facility into compliance.

Szabo said Norfolk Southern’s new 55th Street crew base probably is the most satisfying of the union’s locker-room victories because it was achieved after such a long struggle with the carrier.

“Our efforts to get NS to remedy the deplorable conditions in that building formally started on May 30, 2002, when inspectors from the Commission first inspected it and declared it in noncompliance,” Szabo said.

“But the process really began a year earlier,” Szabo said, “when our members at 55th Street started reporting conditions to their Local union officers. That’s how the process works, local members documenting conditions – it is the very foundation of any complaint.”

Not until last January 10, when Administrative Law Judge Bernadette Cole issued a proposed order to NS to remedy the defects or face substantial fines, did the railroad commit to a plan, timetable and budget to replace the facility.

“It’s been open about a month now,” Szabo said. “The N.S. employees at 55th street have a clean, modern 8,000-square-foot building with 120 lockers, appropriate, functional furniture, an attractive lunch room, plenty of hot water, modern plumbing fixtures and functioning heating and air conditioning.”

Szabo said the union was equally pleased to learn that BNSF Railway has voluntarily agreed to modernize and expand its crew facilities at Corwith and Cicero.

“We did not have to file a ‘formal’ complaint with the Commerce Commission to get these upgrades,” Szabo said. “After complaints by the local membership and an inspection by the ICC, the union held some informal talks with BNSF, and they agreed to go forward with the upgrades.”

Szabo said the Eastbound Building at Cicero will get a 37-ft.-by-25-ft. addition to its front entrance, plus a lunch room and a ready room, while the back of the building, where the men’s Train & Engine crew locker room is located, will get an addition measuring 21 feet by 33 feet.

“There will be a total upgrade of the men’s washrooms and showers, and everything will me made ADA-compliant,” Szabo said.

Also at Cicero, the roundhouse crew rooms will undergo a total renovation, with new lockers, urinals, toilets, sinks, flooring and ceiling tiles. All undersized lockers will be replaced with new regulation equipment.

“The roundhouse will be worked on this winter because all of the facilities undergoing renovation already are indoors,” Szabo said. “Work on the Eastbound Building will have to wait until spring because of outdoor construction.

“Bids will be let in March and construction will begin in June,” Szabo said.

At Corwith, several outdated separate crew facilities have been consolidated into renovated space in the yard-office building.

“It will be a total renovation and redesign of both the male and female facilities, with all-new showers and toilets and also a new lunch room,” Szabo said. “The mechanical work already is done. Installation of plumbing starts in April.

“BNSF really did things right,” he said. “After the initial inspection, the railroad submitted plans for the ICC’s and union’s comments and committed to a realistic timetable.”

Szabo said CSX’s Barr Yard has been a different story. The Illinois Legislative Board filed a formal petition on July 1 requesting a hearing before an ICC administrative law judge after CSX failed to submit plans for remedying defects documented in a series of Commission inspections that began in September 2004.

“The good news is that for the first time they have responded,” Szabo said. The carrier told the Commission in an August 26 letter that it is analyzing its capital needs and reviewing the costs and options available for renovating, expanding or building new.

Szabo said he was pleased with the tone of recent meetings with CSX representatives and was taking a “wait-and-see” approach to CSX’s recent letter indicating their desire to comply.

“They’ve committed that they will have a plan for us to review before year’s end, and I believe that they will,” he said. A hearing is still pending, however, and the Illinois Legislative Board has asked the Commission to levy fines against CSX for non-compliance dating back to September 6, 2004.

Szabo said upgrades to the crew bases at the Alton & Southern yard in East St. Louis appear to be on schedule.

“A&S is in the process of completing renovations to the facilities at East St. Louis,” he said. “They’re doing a full modernization of the men’s locker room and washroom as well as a renovation of the locker room to be used by UP crews that start there. The finishing touches are being applied now, and we’re looking to completion of the project next month.

“At the UP yard in Dupo we have been given a set of plans for an expanded building with double the existing locker-room space, and we will be meeting with UP management to discuss the plans and construction timetable. It’s a good first step. There are some inadequacies in their plan, but we believe they can be resolved. If things progress as hoped, there may be no need to file for any formal ICC action.”

Szabo said securing legally compliant locker rooms for UTU members has been one of the more interesting challenges facing the Illinois Legislative Board.

“At first I don’t think the carriers realized how serious we were about making sure our members had the sanitation and space they are entitled to under Illinois law,” he said. “The three years of foot-dragging by Norfolk Southern at 55th Street suggested they believed they could ‘wait us out.’

“But I think our persistence and our ultimate victory before the Commission sent a message to the other carriers that coming into compliance sooner rather than later would be a wiser investment than lengthy resistance and lots of legal fees.”

“There were some skeptics who said ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” said UTU #1985 Vice Local Chairman Rich Heuring, who was among the first UTU officials to complain to NS about conditions at its 55th Street Yard.

“Well, now they believe it. We have a kitchen with overhead cabinets in our lunchroom. One guy brought in a microwave. Another one brought in a toaster oven. Some of them are bringing in paper plates and utensils. It’s getting like home. All we need now is a stove.”

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