UTU International President Mike Futhey said Szabo is "the first FRA administrator to come out of the ranks of rail labor. It is a validation that this Obama Administration is a friend of organized labor."
"We congratulate Joe Szabo on his nomination as [FRA] Administrator," said Ed Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. "He brings a wealth of experience in the railroad industry to this assignment."
"We have worked closely with Joe on a wide range of rail policy issues and we look forward to partnering with him in this new role to continue to advance freight and passenger rail service in this nation," said Hamberger.
Szabo is a fifth-generation railroader. He hired on with the Illinois Central in 1976, where he worked as a yard switchman, road trainman and commuter passenger conductor. In 1987, he went to Chicago Metra.
In 1984, Szabo was elected secretary/treasurer of UTU Local 1290, progressing to delegate and legislative representative for the rail union. 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 and represented the UTU on the FRA's Rail Safety Advisory Committee, where he participated in drafting rail safety regulations.