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Editor's Note: The following news article by reporter Brian Brueggemann appeared in the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat, on June 4. Jerome J. Schlichter is an attorney with a BLE Designated Counsel, the law firm of Schlichter, Bogard & Denton of Fairview Heights, Ill.
EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. Union Pacific Railroad has paid a $163,650 fine for trying to prevent railroad employees from talking with attorneys who represented an injured railroad worker from East St. Louis.
The fine stemmed from Charles Harper's injury lawsuit against Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads. Harper's attorney, Jerome Schlichter of Fairview Heights, called the fine unprecedented.
He said the railroad, during the case, attempted to prevent attorneys representing injured workers from talking with other railroad employees about Harper's injury without the railroad's permission or the presence of a company representative.
At a trial before Madison County Associate Judge Daniel Stack, evidence showed that the purpose of the rule was to intimidate employees from talking with attorneys. The court ordered the railroad not to interfere. After the injunction was in effect, the railroad then changed its work rules to prevent employees from talking to attorneys about other workers' injuries.
The court found the rule change to be a "flagrant" violation of its order and ruled that Union Pacific had to change the rule, notify its 40,000 employees of the rule change and fined the railroad $150 a day beginning April 10, 1994.
Union Pacific unsuccessfully appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. By the time the appeals ended, the $150-a-day fines totaled $163,650.
"Each court faced with this matter within the last three and a half years has consistently stated the Union Pacific Railroad is guilty of attempting to intimidate witnesses and preventing information from being available equally to both sides in a lawsuit for injuries," Schlichter said.
"When they were stopped from trying to intimidate attorneys, the court found that they attempted to interfere with injured employees' rights by intimidating witnesses and by passing illegal company rules," Schlichter added. "This is an unprecedented fine, and it tells the railroad that they are not above the law."
The above news reported was published in the June 4 issue of the Belleville newspaper. ·
CLEVELAND BLE International President Clarence Monin announced two appointments that will help strengthen International Office operations. He appointed International Vice-President Paul T. Sorrow to the newly created post of Chief of Staff, and named Executive Staff Member M. J. "Mo" Morrow to the new position of Assistant Chief of Staff. Both men add the additional responsibilities to their current duties and will report directly to the BLE president.
Chief of Staff Paul Sorrow assumes general supervisory responsibility for several functional and staff areas at the BLE's headquarters in Cleveland. In addition, Brother Sorrow has undertaken a study of International Office procedures, practices and functions, and he is expected to report his recommendations to President Monin later this month.
"After Paul has made his report, I will issue an operational plan which will describe how the International Office will implement internal improvements and better service for our local divisions, officers and membership," added Monin.
Brothers Sorrow and Morrow belong respectively to BLE Abbeville, S.C. Division 498 and St. Louis Division 48. Their appointments became effective March 12. ·
CLEVELAND Labor Member Butch Speakman of the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board has advised the BLE that budget realities in Congress will likely slow down rail labor efforts to improve the level of benefits available to surviving spouses under the Railroad Retirement Act.
"Congress' current sentiment is that amendments to federal laws must be 'cost neutral'," reported BLE President Clarence Monin, after conferring with the Labor Member's Office of the RRB. "In light of these realities, if a bill raises some benefits, it must either cut off other benefits or raise taxes. It does not matter if the rail retirement trust fund which would pay the benefits can well afford to pay modest additional benefits for widows and widowers."
Because the BLE's position is that benefits paid to surviving spouses are too low, Monin proposes that U.S. railroads be required to fund an increase in the benefits by paying higher Tier II taxes. Monin recently communicated the BLE's position and proposal to the National Association of Retired & Veteran Railroad Employees in a letter to NARVRE National President A. W. "Whitey" Westphal.
"I believe that benefits paid to widows and widowers under the Railroad Retirement Act are simply not adequate. However, I could not support reduction in other benefits to meet the added cost. The only other way to offset the cost would be to raise the railroad unemployment tax, in this case, the Tier II tax."
BLE Vice-President & U.S. National Legislative Representative Leroy Jones reports that Congressman Jack Quinn (who grew up in a railroad family) has the strong support of the BLE for his resolution that "urges and exhorts all parties of the railroad community, including rail labor, management and retiree organizations to find a suitable way to fund an amendment that would improve the survivor benefits component to the Railroad Retirement Act of 1974."
Cong. Quinn, in a letter to fellow congressmen, notes that "During the lifetime of the employee and the spouse, the employee receives a full annuity and so does the spouse. However, after the employees' death, only a widows or widowers annuity is payable. The inadequate spousal annuity of the current system often leaves the survivor with less than the amount of income needed to meet ordinary and necessary living expenses.
"Coming from a railroad family, I have seen firsthand the hard work and long hours that go into working on the railroad. The benefits that come along with the life of a railroader are well deserved but more importantly are paid for from within the railroad industry itself. No contributions from American taxpayers are needed. Put simply, an agreement among railroad industry groups for adequately funding annuity reform is what is needed."
BLE members, their families and survivors are asked to contact their congressional representatives and to encourage them to co-sponsor Cong. Jack Quinn's House Concurrent Resolution No. 52. ·
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