President Obama late Wednesday, March 18, nominated Joe Szabo to head the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Szabo is the Illinois state legislative director of the United Transportation Union (UTU).
Szabo is a fifth-generation railroader. He hired out with the Illinois Central (now part of CN) in 1976, where he worked as a yard switchman, road trainman, and commuter passenger conductor. In 1987, he went to Chicago Metra when IC sold its rail commuter division. In 1984, Szabo was elected secretary/treasurer of UTU Local 1290, progressing to delegate and legislative representative. In 1992, he was elected vice chairperson of the Illinois State Legislative Board, and in 1996 elected state legislative director. He also has been serving as a vice president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
If confirmed, Szabo, age 51, will go to the FRA from a labor union that has unresolved bargaining issues with the railroads. UTU International President Mike Futhey said on Feb. 9: "Our lobbying power before a labor-friendly, Democrat-controlled Congress and White House may be our most effective tool to assure employees are treated equitably at the bargaining table."
Futhey said the railroads "have renewed their push to eliminate the craft of conductor and operate trains with one-person crews" and have also balked at union requests on on entry-pay levels.