Railroad crew drivers joined by Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia to demand living wage

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Clarence Hill, left, and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia speak at a rally for higher wages for railroad crew drivers Thursday, Sept. 27.| Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

A little over two dozen drivers who transport railroad crews were joined by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia downtown Thursday to demand higher wages.

Four unions — United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, the United Steelworkers and the United Public Service Employees Union — are negotiating new labor agreements between October and the end of the year.

Together they represent 65 percent of Class I railroads, which are the larger freight railroads, like CSX and Norfolk Southern.

The rally outside of the Grand Sheraton Hotel Thursday let railroad drivers bring their demands to national executives who were attending the Railroad Insurance Management Association meeting inside.

Like many of his peers, Clarence Hill, chief steward of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers local 1177 makes $11 an hour at his job, or about $24,000 a year.

Work, he does, he said is subcontracted out by large railroads, sometimes to Professional Transportation, Inc. and Hallcon.

“They [executives] save money by subcontracting their work out to PTI and Hallcon and RailCrew Xpress crews who don’t supply us with benefits or minimum wage or upward mobility,” Hill said. “I’m hoping that the railroad would instruct their subcontractors to increase the wages — $15 at least is a starting wage and recognize the experiences of the drivers and the tenure they have on these jobs.”

The Class I railroads have raked in about $2.7 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies, crew drivers said. Garcia, a congressional candidate for the state’s 4th District and potential mayoral candidate, said the workers deserve to make a living wage.

“Everyday, a half a block from my house, I see these workers hauling railroad crews to and from to keep America moving,” Garcia said.

“I’m here to add my voice to yours to say that they ought to take workers into account and that they should pay a living wage and not simply the $12 or $13 an hour that workers receive,” Garcia said.

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