Originally published in the Daily Herald, August 31, 2020.

As Metra strives to recapture riders wary of commuting during a pandemic, the railroad faces COVID-19 fallout on other fronts -- no money, picketing workers, Illinois Senate scrutiny and balking conductors on Union Pacific lines.

Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance Workers Employee Division of the Teamsters brought their work safety grievances to Metra directors' homes this summer. It resulted in one encounter where union officials say they were threatened with a firearm, although police dispute those claims. The employees, who fix tracks, structures and stations, want Metra to offer COVID-19 testing and regular temperature checks. Thirty union members have tested positive for COVID-19 and one worker died of the virus, Metra confirms. Even with masks, workers are anxious about close conditions, such as driving four to a truck en route to jobs, Teamsters representative Nick Manojlovic said.

"No one wants to go to work and bring that (virus) home to our families," Manojlovic said.

The union and Metra are currently negotiating a contract. Things got messy at Director Ken Koehler's house in Crystal Lake Aug. 6, when a crowd of Teamsters materialized with signs and a bullhorn. According to Manojlovic, Koehler at one point intimidated protesters by displaying a pistol and saying, "I'm armed."

But "that is absolutely not true," countered Koehler, who has a concealed carry license. His firearm "never left the holster," he said. "I did not display it, I did not try to agitate anyone."

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Category: In The News

Diversity and InclusionCHICAGO – State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, was pleased to see the Illinois Department of Transportation announce their vote to establish a standing diversity committee, in conjunction with the other member agencies of the Mid-American Association of State Transportation Agencies. 

This announcement came shortly after Villivalam and the Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing centered on increased transparency, diversity, and equity at IDOT.

“Transportation agencies are major job creators here in Illinois,” Villivalam said. “Not only do our workforces and workplaces need to follow diversity and inclusion guidelines, they need to be fair and representative of the communities they serve.”   

The new committee is designed to allow member agencies to learn from one another on diversity issues and other shared transportation challenges, as well as to share information and strategies among member states on issues of diversity and inclusion. 

The purpose of the effort, spearheaded by the Mid-America Association of State Transportation Officials, is to foster the development, operation, and maintenance of an integrated and balanced transportation system that will best serve the needs of its member states. 

MAASTO is affiliated with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and its member states include Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. 

More information about MAASTO and its new initiative can be found at www.maasto.net

Category: Press Releases

IDOT v2CHICAGO – State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, led a virtual hearing focused on how the Illinois Department of Transportation chooses which projects to fund. He and other members of the committee believe that transparency and equity must guide the IDOT project selection process.

“The state spends billions of taxpayer dollars on roads, bridges, and mass transit construction and repair,” Villivalam said. “The people of Illinois deserve to understand how, why, and where that money is spent. The decisions have to be equitable and transparent. It was great to hear that IDOT Secretary Osman and a number of stakeholders are committed to doing just that.” 

The committee heard testimony from IDOT, labor unions involved in the construction process, industry leaders, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, and the Transportation Equity Network. 

“This conversation isn’t over,” Villivalam said. “Transportation is a large part of Illinois’ economy – we’re the crossroads of the nation. Making sure our horizontal construction and repair process truly and fairly serves the needs of our people and commerce is vital to our future.”

Villivalam called the meeting of the committee after hearing from residents and officials who questioned how IDOT chooses which projects to fund. He also heard from the members of the committee as to their need to better understand why projects that have been approved for funding sometimes take years to complete – often with little sign of progress.

Villivalam, the committee and stakeholders are committed to ensuring the project selection process becomes more transparent and equitable, including legislative changes, if needed.

Category: Press Releases

Services DMVCHICAGO – With the health and safety of older Illinoisans in mind, State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) is reassuring drivers aged 75 and older that they now have an extra year to renew their driver’s licenses. 

“This year-long extension is here to save our seniors from having to take a trip to the Driver Services facility at this critical juncture of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Villivalam said. “Your own vehicle remains the safest way to travel during this pandemic, and older adults shouldn’t have to choose between their safety and a valid driver’s license.” 

Residents aged 75 years or older must currently hold a valid license. Drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked do not qualify for the one-year extension. All eligible drivers will be receiving a letter from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office confirming their eligibility. 

For all drivers under the age of 75, expiration dates for driver’s licenses, ID cards, and license plate stickers have been extended until November 1, 2020. Residents who choose to renew their license at a DMV are required to wear a face covering. Drivers are encouraged to be patient due to a heavy volume of requests and must be prepared to wait outside for an extended period of time in all weather conditions.

All Illinois drivers are encouraged to visit www.cyberdriveillinois.com to take advantage of online services from the safety of their own homes whenever possible. Online services include replacements and renewals of license plate stickers and ID cards. 

Category: Press Releases

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