79ers serve customers well, keep railroad moving

From left, Chief Clerk Liz Wojcik, Crew Caller James Ha and Inbound Switching Clerk Mayetta Cook

Hired in 1979, Inbound Switching Clerk Mayetta Cook, Crew Caller James Ha and Chief Clerk Liz Wojcik refer to themselves as the 79ers. They enjoy working with one another and share a special bond. They’ve seen the railroad progress throughout nearly four decades while holding onto its traditions. While their desks are adjacent from one another, they each have a different perspective. 

Wojcik fills father’s shoes

Wojcik serves the role her father, Steve, did for decades before retiring.

She handles servicing the industries Belt works with and dimensional loads, those carloads that are not of standard size and require special clearance so they do not make contact with structures or topographic features along their journey. Her job requires constant communication with crews, trainmasters and the industries themselves. She regards herself as a liaison between customers and her co-workers in the field.

Wojcik inherited her father’s work ethic and dedication to the railroad, its customers and its people, but not the tools he used to do the job. She works in a world of instant communication and up-to-the second information facilitated by electronics. Keeping customers apprised of the status of shipments is often done via email.  When she joined the railroad in 1979, her father was using punch card-based computer system, mimeographs and carbon paper.

“He’d find the current way we do business foreign,” she said. “We’ve come a long way and kept up with the times. It’s a lot more efficient.” 

What remains the same, however, is that railroad customers plan their production based on deliveries making the Belt an extension of their operation, Wojcik said. She says keeping them informed and staying abreast of their needs is a key to their ability to maintain efficiency.

Cook keeps traffic fluid

A torrent of cars arrives, and Inbound Switching Clerk Mayetta Cook helps put them in order.

Her job is to direct traffic and route cars correctly, working closely with dispatchers to do so. She aims to keep the yard fluid and ensure loads get where they’re going in a safe, timely fashion. Accuracy and focus are essential skills used to achieve her mission as well as knowledge of the Belt’s partner railroads. A typical morning includes three or more trains with about 100 cars each arriving at the Belt that need to be routed.

“What we do is important to keeping America moving,” she said.

These days, Cook hands off duties to employees who work later shifts. Making sure she’s left her replacement in good shape is important to her. She may be especially empathetic because it used to be her job to replace others on the day shift.

The Chicago native started on the night shift as a relief clerk at age 21, beginning her day at 11 p.m. and calling it quits as the sun rose. Cook appreciated that experience because it helped her refine her skills and learn which jobs appealed to her most.

With nearly four decades on the job, she still enjoys what she does and people are a key reason why. She appreciates her co-workers, including her fellow 79ers, those she hired out with in 1979, and her supervisor, Director Agency and Customer Service Michael Martinez, who she called attentive and concerned with quality customer service.

Ha is Belt’s people person

The most important part of the railroad is its people.

It’s Crew Caller James Ha’s job to make sure Belt job vacancies are filled, including yardmasters, locomotive engineers and switchmen.

“If it’s open, I have to fill it,” he said. “I have to get every job filled every day.”

That concept hasn’t changed in Ha’s 15 years as a crew caller, but the technology used to achieve his mission has. These days he sits in front of four flat screen computer monitors.

“You have to look at the big picture,” Ha said.

The job is complex. It requires detailed knowledge of labor agreements and staff. Ha also uses his meticulous organizational skills and the ability to multitask.

“I do my part to contribute so the company can move forward,” he said.

His work allows him to interact with people with varied personalities, which requires an ability to communicate in a multitude of ways. In addition to enhancing his communication skills in his tenure, Ha has built a rapport with the people he works with.

With the tight-knit nature of the Belt, he not only recognizes the voices of his co-workers but also what they look like, something that might not be true for crew callers working at national railroads.

“You come in every day and spend a lot of time at work,” he said.

That’s helped Ha forge relationships with the men and women he calls to duty; he’s come to know many of them well.

Ha started as a clerk while completing his senior year of high school and working overnight.

“The company has been good to me and helped me take care of my family,” he said. “My co-workers are great, and I enjoy coming here and socializing with them.”