The SMART Transportation Division in Illinois has been a beacon of productivity and progress for years.  

Mirroring the state’s central role as a hub where the nation’s major Class I carriers operate, SMART-TD’s Illinois operation has plenty of accomplishments and fights won over the last two-plus decades. 

During this period of success, there’s been one consistent throughline. For the last 23 years, the steady hand on the wheel has been Tina O’Brien.  

Tina O’Brien, right, shown with her husband, John, is retiring from the Illinois State Legislative Board’s office after a long career of providing support in one of SMART-TD’s busiest states.

Tina has announced her retirement effective at the end of the month, and SMART-TD would like to thank her for a career of outstanding service to our members.  

She started with SMART-TD in 2000, hired by Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo. In the intervening years, she was part of the movement that saw our Illinois members advance two-person crew legislation all the way to the governor’s mansion, play a central role in infrastructure strategy around Chicago and elsewhere and move ahead with enhanced protections for transit members working for Metra and elsewhere. 

“Tina was so much more than an administrative assistant or office manager – she was always an integral part of the team working together to serve the membership,” said Szabo, who later became Federal Railroad administrator.  “I owe a great debt of gratitude to her, and her husband John. They both have earned a long and happy retirement!”  

In 2009, Szabo went to D.C. to assist the national legislative office before his confirmation as FRA administrator, and the reins of the Illinois State Legislative Board were handed over to current SLD Bob Guy. Luckily for Brother Guy, Tina stayed on and was an invaluable source of institutional memory. O’Brien and Guy have proven to be a formidable combination.  

“From Day One, Tina has been instrumental for me as I grew into the position of state director. I leaned on Tina for so much early on since I couldn’t reach out to my predecessor, Joe Szabo, as he had headed off to lead FRA,” Guy said. “Her commitment to our board and our Illinois members is evident to anyone who knows her.  She’s always been proactive in helping solve problems or answer questions for our members when they call.  Knowing the industry intimately herself, she has always taken pride in helping our members through the rough times, especially the work she did in helping us assist our locals through the early stages of the COVID pandemic and through the national agreement fight and near strike last year.

“Tina was invested in those fights, just as she was when helping me with materials when moving legislation in Illinois, like our successful effort to pass a two-person crew bill in 2019. Tina will be sorely missed by myself and our entire board, but I wish her and John a long, happy and healthy retirement. On behalf of our Illinois Legislative Board, congratulations Tina on a well-deserved retirement!”  

“Tina’s work for our members has resonated in a way that affects more than our operations in Illinois,” said Jenny Miller, chief of staff in SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department in Washington, D.C. “I’ve known and worked with Tina for over 20 years. Whenever I needed something, or a question answered – she was just a friendly phone call and email away from coming to my assistance. A major part of our victories in the National Legislative Office hinges on working closely with the state legislative boards.  Tina was a very important part of that successful relationship, and I’ll miss her a lot.” 

SMART-TD is indebted to Sister O’Brien, and we hope she and her husband John have a long and happy retirement full of all the travel and time with grandchildren that they can handle. 

DECATUR, Ill — SMART Transportation Division Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy was on hand March 30 as state Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a $200 million investment in about two dozen state projects to improve the flow of freight on rail and road.

Among the 22 projects and most important to TD membership is $10 million to complete funding for a $75 million grade-crossing improvement in the city of Decatur to eliminate a chronically blocked crossing near the Midwest Inland Port.

The creation of the overpass at Faries Parkway and the Norfolk Southern will separate the Norfolk Southern tracks from regular vehicle traffic, eliminating a notorious bottleneck that has been blocked by trains for as long as 17 hours at a time.

“Railroad operating employees know all too well that the overwhelming amount of fatalities and injuries in our industry occur at railroad grade crossings or are due to trespassing events,” SLD Guy said.  “It’s a train crew’s worst nightmare to strike a vehicle or pedestrian at or near a crossing. Grade separation projects like this one provide a win-win situation for workers and communities alike. Removing the opportunity for a tragedy at an at-grade crossing while also freeing up the flow of vehicular traffic, especially at a time when crossings are blocked for longer times due to increased train length, improves safety for rail workers, emergency responders and communities as a whole.”

The awards, announced jointly by Pritzker and the state Department of Transportation, are part of the state’s $33.2 billion Rebuild Illinois plan to rebuild and revitalize the state’s transportation infrastructure using state and federal funds.

Freight rail safety in the news

SMART-TD Local 653 (Chicago) is proud to announce the recognition of Legislative Representative Orlando Rojas as the winner of the 2022 Charlie Hayes Award for his work in the greater Chicago labor community.

On Sept. 30, Legislative Representative Orlando Rojas of Local 653 (Chicago) was honored with the Charlie Hayes Award for his labor work. Pictured, from left, are Illinois State Legislative Chairperson Jeff Votteler (Local 1597 – Chicago); Illinois Assistant State Legislative Director Joe Ciemny (Local 1534 – Chicago); Brother Rojas and Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy (Local 234 – Bloomington, Ill.).

This award is given by an organization known as Chicago Jobs With Justice (JWJ), which has a mission of training and developing activists in the community by building a permanent coalition of organizations to support ongoing worker outreach and workplace oversight.

The award Brother Rojas received is named after Hayes, a late congressman who served the state’s 1st District. Congressman Hayes was a labor leader in Chicago from 1938 to 1983. In addition to the 45 years he dedicated himself to organized labor, Congressman Hayes was also a leader in the civil rights movement, working alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to register voters in the South and was arrested in the 1980’s anti-apartheid demonstrations that were instrumental in the freeing of Nelson Mandela.

“I’m very happy for him and his family for the recognition,” said SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, who was responsible for Rojas’s successful nomination. “Orlando epitomizes the essential work our commuter members performed during the pandemic and was gracious when accepting the award, in recognizing his fellow members in both passenger and freight service for the dedicated work they do during these still-challenging times.”

Brother Rojas is a conductor in passenger service for Metra, which provides commuter rail services in Chicago and the surrounding area. A member of SMART-TD for over 18 years, he has served in leadership roles in Local 653 for 15 of them, and both his interest in labor and in railroading have roots in his family history.

In the 1960s, his family immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and his grandfather settled in California. While in California, Rojas’ family worked in agriculture and were members of the movement led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta that organized farm workers. His family was on the front lines of United Farm Workers Union (UFW) and were part of the famous series of work actions known as the Salad Bowl Strike.

Following that movement, Brother Rojas’ family moved to the Chicago area. His father worked for the B&O railroad as a maintenance of way employee and was a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes union.

When asked to comment on his achievement, brother Rojas had a reaction that typifies the selflessness that he was recognized for:

“I want to use this moment to recognize the accomplishments and work of all the unsung heroes in labor today,” he said. “There are so many men and women in our community carrying the torch of past leaders like Charlie Hayes. This community is standing on the shoulders of a wonderful history of the labor movement, and I want to acknowledge and thank everyone involved in building on their accomplishments.”

Rojas also mentioned that he intended to nominate SLD Guy for the award when he found out that Bob had beaten him to the punch and had already nominated him. 

Brother Rojas’ hard work and dedication to his job, family, union and community are a testament to his rich family history and is a point of pride for his family here at the SMART Transportation Division.

SMART-TD joins the Chicago Jobs With Justice campaign in congratulating Brother Rojas. We would also like to join them in thanking brothers Rojas and Guy for all they do.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) of Illinois again has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with rail workers in the battle for national two-person crew legislation.

SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, left, meets with Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 16. Pritzker issued a comment in support of the Rule of 2 on Sept. 27.

SMART Transportation Division members and the people of Illinois have even more evidence that Gov. Pritzker has their safety as his priority. The governor’s office submitted comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Sept. 27 in support of legislation requiring a two-person crew be in the cab of a number of passenger and freight trains. 

“We want to extend our appreciation to Gov. Pritzker for his support for two-person train crews,” said Bob Guy, SMART-TD Illinois state legislative director. “When the governor was a candidate, he visited my office, and we discussed this important employee and public safety need. Then he followed up that commitment by signing legislation (S.B. 24) in 2019 that requires at least two individuals to operate trains in Illinois.

“Now the governor has furthered that commitment by issuing a letter of support for FRA’s current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for crew size safety requirements. Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly have made it clear that they support public safety by requiring a two-person crew on trains, and we thank them for that.”

In his submission to the FRA, Gov. Pritzker stated that “adequate railroad operating personnel is critical to ensuring railroad operational safety and security and in supporting first responder activities in the event of a hazardous material incident, grade crossing incident, or mechanical failure.”

The support from Gov. Pritzker is appreciated by the labor community, yet does not come as a surprise. His track record of respect for this issue is clear —  in 2019, he signed S.B. 24 into law, mandating two-person crews for freight trains operating within the borders of Illinois, even when then-FRA Administrator Ron Batory was attempting to quash states’ efforts to regulate train crew size.

A suspected robber who attacked an on-duty Metra conductor at Van Buren station in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon was taken into custody Wednesday by Metra police in Calumet City, the carrier reports.

Police said the robber brandished a handgun and took an undisclosed amount of cash from the SMART Transportation Division member. Video surveillance captured images of the suspect and he was arrested hours after the incident with charges pending.

Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy says that the incident “saddened and infuriated” him and that the crime should be dealt with using the fullest extent of the law.

“We are very happy there wasn’t a more tragic outcome,” Guy said. “Thanks again for the work of everyone involved in the arrest of this offender, but work remains to be done to protect workers and passengers alike from individuals who seek to harm or cause chaos on board trains, and we stand ready to assist in any way we can.”

He urged Metra leadership to take a strong stance in ensuring the safety of passengers and workers alike. One such solution, in addition to prosecution by police, would be a lifetime prohibition for the perpetrator from using Metra, Guy said.

From left, SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich, Michigan SLD Don Roach, Amtrak employee Stefan Schweitzer, FRA Deputy Administrator Amit Bose, TD Local 168 (Chicago, Ill.) member Keisha Hamb-Grover and Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy stand at Chicago’s Union Station on Oct. 13.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Deputy Administrator Amit Bose’s nomination by President Joe Biden to become administrator of FRA was advanced Oct. 20 by the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Along with Bose, the nomination of Meera Joshi to be administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also was advanced to the full U.S. Senate by a 22-6 committee vote. A timetable for the full Senate to consider Bose’s and Joshi’s nominations has not yet been set.
In related news, Bose was a passenger Oct. 13 aboard the Amtrak Wolverine route from Chicago to Detroit with three SMART Transportation Division state legislative directors and also appeared at a news conference at Chicago’s Union Station as the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) unveiled its 40-year Midwest Regional Rail plan.
“Looking all the way through 2055, the plan addresses key corridor and investment priorities, potential funding strategies, and necessary governance structures identified by the states working with MIPRC,” Bose said. “While America’s interstate highway system and commercial aviation industry are vital and indispensable, rail can and does play a key role in our multi-modal transportation system,” Bose said. “Nowhere is that more evident than Chicago, the nation’s rail hub.”
SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, chairman of the commission, as well as Michigan SLD Donald Roach and Minnesota SLD Nick Katich, all spent time with Bose during the trip before MIPRC began its three-day-long meeting.
“It was wonderful to be able to spend time with Deputy Administrator Amit Bose while he was in Chicago and on the train to Detroit as part of the MIPRC annual meeting,” Guy said. “It’s clear that he is very aware of our serious concerns and frustrations with the previous FRA hierarchy, but his openness, communication and availability to our members and our leadership are a testament to his priorities and provides a glimpse into how he values SMART-TD’s input on issues affecting our members.”
Bose also was a guest on the SMART-TD National Legislative Office’s monthly Zoom call Oct. 11 where he discussed concerns brought up by both national and state officers.
A full recap of the wide-ranging discussion that Deputy Administrator Bose had with SMART-TD officers will be published in the next edition of the SMART-TD News.

Matt Hanson, alternate legislative representative and trustee for Local 171 (Aurora, Ill.), is continuing his bid to retain his seat on the Kane County Board.

Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, left, and Kane County Board Member Matt Hanson, an officer for SMART-TD Local 171, pose together at an event for Hanson’s re-election campaign.

Hanson, an incumbent seeking a full term, is facing a Democratic primary challenge March 18 and continues to build momentum for a successful campaign with endorsements from the North Central Illinois Labor Council (NCILC) and the Fox Valley Building Trades (FVBT) along with several elected officials since entering the 2020 election cycle.
“I will continue to govern, drive discussion, and vote to support all employees of Kane County whether or not protected through collective bargaining,” Hanson said in an email. “Votes can be cultivated and secured using a variety of means, all of which I look to utilize. I always “do the work” for myself and like-minded candidates when my assistance is requested.”
During this effort, Hanson’s been juggling time serving on the county board, his union officer responsibilities, and his full-time career as a locomotive engineer for BNSF and can use the support of his fellow union brothers and sisters both in Illinois and elsewhere.
He has a fund-raising event scheduled 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 3 at Mike & Denise’s Pizzeria, 1760 N. Farnsworth Ave., Aurora, Ill., 60505, and invites members to come out and support his efforts. Tickets are $25.
“Any help that can be lent is needed and immensely appreciated,” said Hanson. “I am proud to tell everyone encountered on the campaign trail that I am a card-carrying union railroader that belongs to SMART-TD Local 171.”
To contact Hanson and contribute to his campaign, email or mail checks to Friends of Matt Hanson, P.O. Box 1101, Aurora, IL 60507.

SMART Transportation Division Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy testified Nov. 13 before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials regarding the future of Amtrak as members of Congress continue the reauthorization process for the national passenger carrier and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
He touched upon the topics of assault upon workers, Amtrak funding and having a labor member on the carrier’s board.

Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy testifies before members of the U.S. House rail subcommittee on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. At left behind Guy is SMART TD National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes and to the right behind Guy is Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity.

Guy called for Congress to increase the level of appropriations reserved for Amtrak so that the carrier can go forward as an important part in the groundwork of a multimodal transportation system in the United States.
“Congress should allow Amtrak to be America’s railroad and support their ability to maintain a qualified workforce that meets customers’ demands now and well into the future,” Guy told representatives on the subcommittee.
He said steps taken by legislators in the FAST Act, including the addition of three grants administered by the Federal Railroad Administration, have helped to increase momentum for improving Amtrak’s service.
“These grants are successful, and they work.”
But operationally, there are areas of concern — Guy urged representatives to preserve and protect Amtrak’s long-distance service, which had been in jeopardy of being axed last year — especially the Southwest Chief route — before legislators stepped in.
On the administrative side, Guy said the Amtrak Board of Directors should have a member from labor on it, mirroring what the Railroad Retirement Board does, Guy said. Often, the experiences of SMART TD members and other unionized workers who keep Amtrak running day to day can be enlightening on what to do and what not to do when running the railroad, he said.
“Passengers interact with our members on board trains,” Guy said. “We hear concerns and complaints … having a labor member at a board level will help Amtrak make decisions that could affect service.”
Guy said employees also are not given enough resources to deal with violence against them. Carrier-provided protections for Amtrak’s rail workers such as de-escalation and self-defense training aren’t there, he said, and neither is counseling after an incidence of violence occurs. SMART TD brother Michael Case was shot in 2017, and the incident spurred the introduction of legislation to treat the punishment of transit worker assaults the same as those perpetrated on airline workers.
Guy was one of three labor representatives who discussed the carrier’s relationship with labor. Over the past year, Amtrak has engaged in what has been described by some as “union busting” behavior, especially as it concerns cuts to the jobs of unionized call-center and food-service workers, police officers and rural station agents.
“When you are reducing the workforce that’s in charge of inspections and fixing equipment and whatnot, it makes it hard to keep things in a state of good repair, regardless if new equipment is coming,” Guy said. “I wouldn’t want to see worker reductions to the point where safety is jeopardized. We don’t think it is, but that’s a path we wouldn’t want to see.”
Amtrak reported a positive fiscal 2019 with an increase in ridership, a decrease in operating loss and an increase in operating revenue, but subcommittee Chairman Dan Lipinski, who represents Illinois’ 3rd District, was highly critical of the carrier’s cuts that helped to achieve those results in his opening remarks.
“Amtrak clearly has decided that the way to prosperity is to have its workers pay for it,” Lipinski said. “This is not the way to run this railroad.”
Among the cuts were about 500 jobs at a call center in Riverside, Calif. About 350 of those jobs were later brought back at non-union sites.
“Amtrak used to be an enviable place to work,” said Jack Dinsdale, national vice president of the Transportation Communications Union, in criticizing the loss of those union jobs. “It was about union busting, period.”
Also testifying on labor’s behalf was Dan Regan, secretary of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department.
Watch the entire hearing.

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.

The doors of a packed Metra BNSF train opened while going 34 mph, reported the Chicago Sun-Times. No one was hurt and the doors quickly closed after an estimated three seconds.
SMART TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy told the Sun-Times that when engineers are pulling out of a station, they’re focused on the track ahead and a door light can easily be overlooked.
Click here to read more from the Chicago Sun-Times.