Joseph F. Szabo, of Munster, Ind., and formerly of Riverdale, Ill., a retired member of Local 1299 (Chicago, Ill.) passed away Friday, June 12, 2020.

An Army Air Corps veteran, Brother Szabo was a loving husband, father and grandfather and retired with 39 years of service as a switchman for the Illinois Central Railroad, where he served as secretary/treasurer and as chaplain for his local. His drive to provide for his family often led him to hustle second jobs: He sold autos at Ford dealerships, owned gas stations, worked at the Chicago Board of Trade, worked at Republic Steel, and ran a small business installing TV antennas.
But it was the camaraderie of railroading he loved and he remained close with former co-workers in retirement, particularly through the Dolton Elks.
Joseph was an avid lover of his afternoon martini, Big Band music and dancing, and his Chicago sports. He had a lifelong passion for the Chicago Cubs and loved taking his family to Wrigley Field. As an uncle, he was very close with his nieces, nephews and their families, and loved large family gatherings where he shared love, wisdom, stories and his wonderful sense of humor.
In retirement he served as a volunteer tax preparer for AARP, a volunteer Village Inspector in Riverdale, Ill., as a member of the Chicago South Suburban Mass Transit District Board and as chaplain for the Dolton Elks. Active in community theater earlier in his life, he enjoyed singing in the chorus at the Hartsfield Village Retirement Community.
He is survived by his loving children, Jo Carol (Thomas, dec) Clark, Susan (Richard) Stables, Peggy Szabo, former Federal Railroad Administrator and Illinois State Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo (Local 120, Chicago, Ill.) and Clark (Diana) Szabo; and his precious grandchildren Carly Szabo, Megan Stables, Tori Szabo and Natalie Szabo.
Brother Szabo was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 57 years, Shirley; sisters Margaret Barber and Rose Stapleton; and his parents, Joseph and Theresia Szabo, who emigrated from Burgenland, Austria.
A funeral service will be held 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 16 at Solan Pruzin Funeral Home, 14 Kennedy Ave., Schererville, Ind. Friends may visit with the family 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice of the Calumet Area or the Chicago Lighthouse.
SMART Transportation Division offers its sincere condolences to Brother Szabo’s family, his friends, Local 1299 and all who knew him.

NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio — The team negotiating the next National Rail Contract which will affect more than 40,000 SMART Transportation Division members has been finalized by the union’s leadership.
The team will be led by TD President Jeremy Ferguson with the assistance of Vice Presidents Brent Leonard; John J. Whitaker III; Chadrick Adams; Jamie C. Modesitt; Joe M. Lopez and David B. Wier Jr.
Also part of the team are five General Chairpersons, Mike LaPresta (BNSF); Gary Crest (Union Pacific); Roger Crawford (Illinois Central); Thomas Gholson (Norfolk Southern) and Christopher Bartz (yardmasters).
“We are prepared to do whatever it takes to get the most out of this round of national contract talks,” President Ferguson said. “It will be a challenging process and it could be quite contentious at times. However, we on the negotiating team are confident that as we work through the process we can achieve a positive result.”
The opening meeting of negotiations is scheduled for February 26 and 27 in Washington, D.C., with talks occurring in Cleveland, Omaha, Washington, D.C. and Chicago, as the year progresses.
SMART-TD is part of a Coordinated Bargaining Coalition that consists of it and nine other unions representing rail labor. Carriers BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Canadian National, Norfolk Southern, Soo Line, Union Pacific and numerous smaller railroads are represented by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) during negotiations.
In related news, CSXT will not be part of national bargaining, except for health and welfare issues. For the wages and rules portion, SMART-TD and CSX have agreed to begin bargaining locally on behalf of trainmen starting Jan. 21, 2020.
A joint meeting for the negotiating parties regarding facilitated bargaining is scheduled in Jacksonville, Fla., on January 22 and 23.
Additional meeting dates for these negotiations are currently under discussion, and a tentative schedule will be set in the near future. Neither the SMART-TD nor CSX have exchanged any proposals, and an agenda for the subjects to be discussed during these contract talks, which are separate from the National Rail Contract negotiations, has yet to be finalized.

John Harold Burner, 75, of Robinson, Ill., a former assistant state director for the United Transportation Union, died at 10:50 p.m. Oct. 22, 2017 at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Ind. He was born April 21, 1942, the son of Harold & Edith (Comer) Burner, both of whom preceded him in death. John Harold Burner
“John was more than an assistant director, he was a true partner when it came to representing rail workers in Illinois,” said Joe Szabo, a former Federal Railroad Administrator who also served as legislative director for the union in Illinois. “His ‘country boy’ manner resonated with members of the Illinois General Assembly, and he was trusted by both Republicans and Democrats. Together we accomplished a lot, and I owe John so much – as does every rail worker in this state. ”
SMART TD Legislative Director for Illinois Bob Guy also said that rail workers in his state are better off because of Burner’s efforts.
“The list of issues and topics that John worked on over the years is far too large to describe, but rest assured that our members are better off today for having John Burner representing us, I know I am,” Guy said. “So on behalf of all of our Illinois members, active and retired, I want to thank John for his service to our union, and I want to especially thank his wife Shirley and the rest of the Burner family for sharing him with us all those many years.
“We owe you, John — you won’t soon be forgotten, rest in peace my friend.”
John was a 1960 graduate of Palestine High School, and went on to further his education at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill. In 1962, he started working as an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad, where he worked for 34 years before becoming assistant state director for UTU. He retired in 2008, and was a man who truly enjoyed his work, as anyone who knew him could attest.
Burner married Shirley Kay Corder on July 28, 1963, and she survives. He is also survived by his son & daughter-in-law, John S. & Kirsten Burner (Ventura, Calif.); by his daughter & son-in-law, Tammy & B.J. Fralicker (Palestine, Ill.); and by his grandchildren, Nick Halterman (Robinson, Ill.), Kiara Fralicker (Palestine, Ill.), and Sophia Burner (Ventura, Calif.); as well as a number of nieces and nephews.
In his free time, John could often be found on the water. In his younger days, he enjoyed water skiing. As he grew older, skiing turned to fishing, and this brought him so much joy through the years. He was also very active locally with the Boy Scouts. A former Eagle Scout, John was instrumental in starting the scout camp north of Palestine years ago. He was also active with girls’ softball for many years. Though John was many things to many people, he was first and foremost a family man. No one could doubt the love he had for his wife, children, and grandchildren, who have lost a friend, partner and patriarch.
John was a member of the Crawford County Bass Club and the Palestine High School Alumni Reunion Committee.
Visitation will be 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26 at Goodwine Funeral Home in Palestine, Ill. Funeral services will be 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 27 at the funeral home, with burial following in Palestine Cemetery. Celebrant Curt Goodwine will be officiating the service.
Memorials may be made to the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis.

CN_red_logoSMART Transportation Division-represented conductors and trainmen employed by the Canadian National/Illinois Central Railroad have ratified a new six-year agreement, Vice President Dave Wier reports.

The agreement provides for six annual wage increases retroactive to Aug. 1, 2010, with the final wage increase to be effective Jan. 1, 2015, totaling 18.6 percent and resulting in a cumulative wage increase of 20.08 percent over the life of the agreement. The accord includes conductor certification pay rolled into the rates of pay and full retroactive back pay for all active trainmen and employees that retired or died subsequent to Aug. 1, 2010.

The agreement also lowers the calculated vacation qualification days from 240 to 160 days; increases the meal allowance to $12 after four hours and every eight hours thereafter at the away-from-home terminal; improves bereavement leave; provides for a furlough retention board; institutes provisions for temporary transfer to other CN properties, and establishes seniority on the first day of compensated service.

It also establishes regular assignments after four consecutive days of similar-type work and provides for six-and-two and four-and-two work rest cycles with local negotiations concerning eleven-and-three work rest cycles. Participation in the National Health and Welfare plans continues.

“The work rest cycles are, six days of work followed by two days of rest, and four days of work followed by two days of rest, in a 14-day period,” Wier said. “The 11 and three is subject to local negotiations and includes ‘Smart Rest,’ to allow an employee’s consecutive work days to be reset by taking a 24-hour period off. This complies with Rail Safety Improvement Act regulations.”

Wier, who assisted with the mediated negotiations, expressed his appreciation to CN/IC GO 401 General Chairperson Tracy Bublitz (234), retired General Chairperson R.W. “Red” Dare (1525), GO 433 Acting General Chairperson Butch St. John (1557) and GO 433 General Committee Secretary Jerry “J.J.” Russum (1334) for their exceptional effort in bringing the members’ concerns to the bargaining table.

“This agreement will make their members some of the highest paid rail employees in the country,” Wier said.

UTU-represented yardmasters employed by Canadian National Railway’s Illinois Central Railroad have reached a new tentative agreement following mediation assistance from the National Mediation Board. A March tentative agreement was rejected by the membership, which will now vote, through Sept. 15, on the new tentative pact.

Negotiations were led by UTU International Vice President Paul Tibbit and UTU General Chairperson Doyle Turner (GO 347).

“This tentative agreement, as with others negotiated with Class 1 railroads, is intended to bring parity in wages, benefits and work rules to the thousands of employees in the railroad industry, along with the many other protections offered by union membership,” Turner said. “The seniority, scope and discipline rules these members now enjoy are what makes union membership valuable.”

Illinois Central connects Chicago with New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., and also reaches Omaha, Neb., and Sioux City, Iowa. Canadian National gained control of Illinois Central in 1998.

OSHA logo; OSHAHere we go again – or should we say, again and again and again and again.

This time it is Canadian National’s Illinois Central Railroad and short line Chicago, Ft. Wayne & Eastern Railroad that have been hit with more than $650,000 in sanctions by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for retaliating against three employees who reported workplace injuries and/or safety concerns.

Sadly, there is basis in fact for the refrain that no industry spends as much to hire and train new employees as do railroads and then works so hard to intimidate, harass and fire them.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said the more than $650,000 in sanctions is to go toward back wages and damages for two Illinois Central employees at the railroad’s Markham, Ill., yard, and a Chicago, Ft. Wayne and Eastern employee — all of whom were the targets of management retaliation in three separate incidents.

“It is critically important that railroad employees in the Midwest and across the nation know that OSHA intends to defend the rights of workers who report injuries and safety concerns,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels. “We will use the full force of the law to make sure that workers who are retaliated against for reporting health and safety concerns are made whole.”

Michaels has said that before, in the wake of its investigations and sanctions against other railroads – and OSHA continues to deliver on its promise.

The Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970 extended whistleblower protection to employees retaliated against for reporting an injury or illness requiring medical attention. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 added additional requirements ensuring injured workers receive prompt medical attention. An employer is outright prohibited from disciplining an employee for requesting medical or first-aid treatment, or for following a physician’s orders, a physician’s treatment plan, or medical advice, or for reporting workplace safety concerns.

Retaliation, including threats of retaliation, is defined as firing or laying off, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, disciplining, denying benefits, failing to rehire, intimidation, reassignment affecting promotion prospects, or reducing pay or hours.

OSHA, which does not identify whistleblowers, said the first employee, a conductor, was injured in August 2008 when he was knocked unconscious and sustained injuries to his shoulder, back and head while switching railcars in Illinois Central’s Markham, Ill., yard. A knuckle that connects the cars allegedly broke, said OSHA, causing the cars to suddenly jolt and the employee to fall. The railroad held an investigative hearing and consequently terminated the conductor, alleging he had violated safety rules. 

OSHA, however, found that the worker was terminated in reprisal for reporting a work-related injury.

The second employee, a carman, reported an arm/shoulder injury in February 2008. While walking along a platform to inspect railcars in the poorly lit yard, said OSHA, the carman slipped on ice and tried to catch himself, which jolted his left arm and shoulder. The railroad held an investigative hearing and consequently terminated the carman for allegedly violating the company’s injury reporting procedures.

OSHA, however, concluded that the carman had properly reported the injury.

 In the third incident, OSHA said Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad – a RailAmerica property — wrongly terminated a conductor in retaliation for his raising concerns about workplace safety while serving as a union officer, and for reporting a trainmaster had instructed him to operate a train in violation of certain Federal Railroad Administration rules in June 2009 near Fort Wayne, Ind.

UTU designated legal counsel have pledged to investigate and assist UTU members in bringing complaints under these laws.

A rail employee may file a whistle-blower complaint directly with OSHA, or may contact a UTU designated legal counsel, general chairperson or state legislative director for assistance.

A listing of UTU designated legal counsel is available at:

or may be obtained from local or general committee officers or state legislative directors.

To view a more detailed OSHA fact sheet, click on the following link: