By Joseph C. Szabo
UTU Illinois State Director
Railroad crew members in Illinois who suspect mechanical or driver problems with the vans that shuttle them between layover points and their trains now have a standard procedure for obtaining a remedy. Effective January 1, 2002, all vehicles contracted for hire to shuttle crews are required to be inspected at a state-licensed motor vehicle facility every six months. Vehicles that pass inspection are awarded a sticker that must be posted on the front windshield just ahead of the steering column.
In addition, van drivers are now subject to hours of service regulations. Drivers are restricted to 12 hours of actual driving time per day and limited to a total of 15 hours total on duty time. Any driver meeting these thresholds must have a minimum of 8 consecutive hours off duty before returning to work.
You play the most critical role in the enforcement of these regulations. As the only eyes and ears in the field, it is important any potential violations be put in writing to the office of your union's legislative director. Copies of the complaint to the railroad or to the union's safety committee are also highly recommended to put the carrier on formal notice of the existence of an unsafe condition. If in doubt – simply write it up to your union!!
For example, UTU members can go to the UTU Illinois web page at www.illini.utu.org and click on "Safety Complaints." On the menu, click on "Crew Van Complaint Form" and fill in all the pertinent information. Please be thorough and specific, as incomplete or general complaints can be difficult to process.
The key is to document what you have witnessed. Jot down the license number of the vehicle, the state that issued the plate and date you witnessed the alleged violation. Note the carrier name and the vehicle number, if possible, and describe the violation you witnessed. Also indicate where the trip began and ends. It could be any mechanical defect that affects the safety of operation, poor vehicle maintenance, or the failure to properly display the safety sticker. It can be an unsafe driving violation – possibly due to driver fatigue.
There is no need to enter into debate or discussion with the van driver, company management or railroad management, nor will drivers be required to show you an on duty time log. If you simply suspect the driver has worked excessive hours, write it up and send it to your legislative representative! Based on the complaint you file, your union's legislative department will initiate a formal complaint with the Illinois Department of Transportation and State Police.
There have been concerns regarding the potential "Federal Preemption" of Illinois law and its application to vans licensed by firms outside Illinois, such as Renzenberger. With Federal Preemption, parts of the Illinois law may or may not apply. For example, those vans licensed outside Illinois will not be required to undergo the six-month Illinois safety inspection, nor will they be required to display the Illinois safety sticker. However, they still must be mechanically safe. It is even more important that any safety concerns on these out-of-state vans be documented and written up, while indicating if the trip began and ended all within Illinois.
Simply stated, the law will only work for you as well as you allow it to. You, and the writing up of any potential violation, are the keys to making the law work. The Illinois State Police, the Secretary of State's office, and the Department of Transportation have all pledged their support for ensuring that both the letter and the spirit of the law are enforced. But they need the information as processed through your union’s legislative office.
You are the only one who can let your union representatives know what is really happening out there. If in doubt, write it up, write it up, write it up!!!!