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Chicago-Area Railroad Workers Strike After Rush Hour Ends

September 9, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ An estimated 2,600 rail employees went on strike this morning in a walkout timed to begin as soon rush hour ended to avoid disruptions, but thousands of commuters faced an uncertain trip home.

The walkout began at 9 a.m. as agreed Thursday by the Chicago & North Western railroad and members of the United Transportation Union.

The fate of the evening rush hour remained in the hands of Congress, where the House today was to consider a version of a Senate bill passed Thursday that would impose a settlement.

″It is scheduled to be the first thing up. ... It will be rushed to the president. The president should sign it within an hour or so,″ said Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.

However, consideration of the bill was delayed, and a vote was not expected until the afternoon, said Mike Bushman, an aide to Rep. Terry Bruce, D-Ill.

C&NW is a leading Midwestern freight hauler and also runs commuter trains serving 40,000 people a day in Chicago’s suburbs.

Union members had planned to walk out at 12:01 a.m., when a 36-day cooling- off period in the dispute ran out, but held off until 9 a.m. after Simon and Bruce helped persuade the railroad to postpone layoffs of freight brakemen.

The bill would implement recommendations of a presidential emergency board and cut 689 brakemen in its 10-state freight operations. The railroad had sought to lay off 1,150. The board was appointed by President Reagan in April.

″Right now we know of no opposition in the House,″ Simon said Thursday.

Union representatives said Thursday the dispute should be resolved at the bargaining table and not on Capitol Hill.

″It would be a great injustice to the working man if they pass this (Simon) law,″ said Don Markgraf, general chairman of the UTU. ″The politicians should be home getting elected instead of fooling around in labor disputes.″

Some union members threatened to stay off the job no matter what Congress decides.

David Wells, a brakeman, said union members planned to disperse within a 100-mile radius of Chicago and not be available to be called back to work today because they were angry about C&NW’s handling of the dispute.

″Most of our people were docked pay″ during a brief, two-hour strike Aug. 4, Wells said. ″We informed our commuters that we didn’t anticipate there would be an evening rush hour.″

Markgraf said he hadn’t heard of such a plan and attributed it to rumors.

C&NW officials said intervention was needed to avert a strike.

″In this case collective bargaining did not work and we’re happy Sen. Simon stepped in,″ said Leslie Cleveland, a railroad spokeswoman.

Under the Railway Labor Act, Congress and the president have authority to settle railroad disputes that threaten national commerce.

The railroad and the union have been battling for more than a year over the size of crews on C&NW freight trains.

The company contends the brakemen’s jobs are obsolete; the union argues the brakemen - two on each train’s crew - are neeeded to maintain safety.

The UTU struck C&NW for about four hours Aug. 4, after an earlier cooling- off period imposed by President Reagan. Congress, however, ended that strike quickly by imposing a second cooling-off period - which expired today.

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