A group of local community, faith and labor leaders took their concerns over alleged dangerous and unhealthy working conditions to Nippon Sharyo's passenger train factory in Rochelle, Illinois last week.
Fifteen people representing several Chicago-area organizations traveled to the plant in an attempt to speak with company officials about the conditions at the facility where railcars for Metra and other public transit agencies are built. The group hand-delivered a letter expressing their concerns about alleged workplace hazards after company officials denied the group's request for a meeting. The 15-person delegation later met with workers from the plant to listen to their concerns.
"We are deeply concerned that workers at Nippon Sharyo are exposed to toxic chemicals and treated with indignity," said Antonio Lopez of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. "It is of the utmost importance that the management at Nippon Sharyo respond to our repeated requests to address the health and working conditions at their Rochelle plant."
As Progress Illinois has reported, current and former factory employees filed a complaint in October with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), alleging that workers "are exposed to serious, unsafe conditions on an ongoing basis."
Among other alleged hazards, the rail car assembly plant lacks basic safety equipment; adequate respiratory protection for welders exposed to potential chromium poisoning; ventilation for flammable materials; and fall protections for employees working atop rail cars, the complaint says. OSHA is investigating the allegations, according to the worker advocates.
The 15 people who visited Nippon Sharyo's Rochelle facility represented Chicago and Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the Developing Communities Project, Alliance for American Manufacturing, International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART - Transportation Division), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), United Auto Workers Region 4, and the AFL-CIO.
"We're glad that investments in mass transit and high-speed rail are creating jobs in Illinois, but we need to make sure these are good jobs in a safe environment," said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club's Illinois Chapter. "It is critical that all workers have a safe and healthy workplace, and the right to address their concerns about environmental and health threats without fearing the loss of their jobs."