The union has received notification in recent weeks of the deaths of three former vice presidents of the United Transportation Union.
Five-term UTU Vice President Peter Patsouras passed away on Thursday, Sept. 10. He was 76 years old.
Joining the union in August 1965, he was elected in 1967 as local chairperson of Local 1825 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was elected general chairperson of Norfolk & Western’s Wheeling & Lake Erie Division in 1976 and was elected alternate vice president in 1979. He was elevated to UTU vice president upon the retirement of Vice President Jim Burke in June 1982 and was re-elected at the 1983, ’87, ’91,’95 and ’99 UTU conventions, serving as a VP for more than two full decades of union history until his retirement in 2003.
“Pete was a great guy,” said retired SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch. “Not only was he a great union leader, he was the person who started the modern environmental movement.”
Patsouras was present to witness a bit of Northeast Ohio and, by extension, U.S. history on June 22, 1969. As a crew member on the Norfolk & Western train that sparked the infamous Cuyahoga River fire in Cleveland, he saw an event that drew national attention and a bit of infamy to the city of Cleveland.
The fire reportedly was caused by a fusee, a long torch resembling an oversized matchstick used by flagmen, that an unidentified crew member had dropped into the river to extinguish. (Media reports described the fire’s cause as a “spark” from a diesel locomotive). Instead of going out, the fusee caught contaminants in the river’s water on fire. The blaze drew national attention from Time Magazine, among others, and was seen as spurring the eventual passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
“That was the trigger they needed to clean up the environment. It (the river) was terrible. The oil and all the chemicals that were just thrown in there by a number of businesses, you wouldn’t want to put a finger in for fear of pulling back a stump,” Patsouras said in an interview published in the September 2019 SMART Transportation Division News regarding the fire’s 50th anniversary.
The SMART Transportation Division offers its heart-felt condolences to the families, friends and the local brothers and sisters of these three officers who faithfully served the union for many decades.
G. Thomas DuBose, who served one term as president of the SMART Transportation Division’s immediate predecessor union, passed away on Aug. 20, 2020, after a short illness.
G. Thomas DuBose served as UTU president from 1991 until his retirement in 1995.
DuBose, United Transportation Union (UTU) president from 1991 to 1995, had experienced health complications recently and had been placed in hospice care. He was 85 years old.
“The union extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of former President DuBose,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “His leadership helped to guide our union through a period of great difficulty and transition. As an organization, we all are saddened, and we mourn his loss.”
DuBose assumed the union presidency during a time when great transition was occurring in the use of technology, especially with the establishment of the internet. The union acquired its first mainframe during his administration as UTU made its initial steps toward the computerization of its operations. An email system for the union and an awards database accessible to international officers and general chairpersons was created, and he also oversaw a union restructuring with the consolidation of a number of General Committees, and the establishment of an accident investigation committee. The UTU also joined the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO for the first time during his tenure.
“I feel I left this union in better condition than I found it,” DuBose said in a UTU News article as the union transitioned from his leadership to succeeding President Charles L. Little in 1995.
David Hakey, who worked alongside DuBose during his two campaigns for the union presidency and served as a union vice president from 2000 to 2007, spent more than four decades knowing DuBose personally and professionally. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, DuBose was generous in lending his time and guidance to Hakey who was starting out as a general committee officer. DuBose, even then a longtime vice president, showed Hakey the ropes in writing cases and defending members.
“He was my mentor, and he was my friend,” Hakey said. “He was always a good steward of the union. He always put the union first and the membership first.”
Hakey said DuBose was naturally inclined to put the needs of others ahead of himself, even outside of union business. In one encounter, DuBose and Hakey met a man on the street begging for money. Rather than just giving the man some spare change, DuBose insisted that they take him out to lunch.
“Tom was alway willing to listen,” Hakey said. “He was a compassionate individual. He always tried to put the membership first.”
Carl Cochran, administrator of the SMART TD Alumni Association, remembered DuBose’s active leadership in organizing a team that brought the Florida East Coast Railroad back into the UTU fold and in reaching out to help members in Cochran’s home state of Florida to cope with the devastation of the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
“We asked for help from our union, and we got it for our members that lost their homes,” Cochrane said.
Born in Macon, Ga., on March 23, 1935, G. Thomas DuBose hired on as a switchman for the Central of Georgia Railway in October 1955 and was a member of Local 535 in Macon, serving as a local officer there. He was elected vice president of the Switchmens’ Union of North America (SUNA) in 1967 at the age of 32 and retained that office during the formation of the UTU in 1969.
He served four additional terms as a union vice president before being elected the UTU’s assistant president in 1987. At the Sixth UTU Convention in 1991, he defeated then-incumbent UTU President Fred Hardin’s bid for a fourth term. DuBose had unsuccessfully challenged Hardin for the presidency at the prior convention.
“We ran a grassroots campaign,” said Hakey, who managed DuBose’s winning campaign. “instead from the top-down, it was from the bottom up. The membership was desirous of a change and they wanted to see something different.”
The union faced a number of fiscal challenges at the time, Hakey said, and DuBose resolved those during his single term, leaving UTU on better financial footing than before. DuBose also was elected and served as secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO TTD.
After his 1995 retirement, the former president continued to maintain an association with the union and lent his support to a tentative national rail contract negotiated in 2011 that won approval.
“After Tom retired, he would sit at the Alumni table at the regional meetings with Kenny Menges or myself,” Cochran said. “Our members would enjoy Tom telling the history of our union.”
Former President G. Thomas DuBose is survived by his two children, Mark DuBose (Margaret), Marty Lee (KD), and three grandchildren, Matthew DuBose, Kristin Lee, and Ben DuBose.
His family thanks SMART General President Joseph Sellers, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and all members, past and present, for their kind words and condolences during this difficult time. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that all donations be made to a charity of their choice. Due to COVID-19, the burial will be a private graveside service on September 9th. To express condolences, please visit https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/macon-ga/g-thomas-dubose-9326937.
The SMART Transportation Division offers its deepest condolences to the DuBose family, his friends and his Local 535 brothers and sisters in their time of loss.
“My daughter and her friend work for Grub Hub and live off tips,” said Donna, “and they live with me because there is no way that they can afford to live on their own.”
Donna’s story hit me hard and here is why.
Adrienne McCauley provided this photo of herself and her father, Kelley, a former UTU/SMART TD member, who was able to provide for his family thanks in part to union protections.
My dad made a choice at 18 that if he was going to make a decent living, he could never do so off our family’s struggling cattle ranch in Arizona. So he hired out on the railroad, and with that he joined a union.
The first 15 years of Dad’s career were rocky. He was often laid off, sometimes for six months at a time (priority in scheduling went to railroaders with more seniority). Then Mom would get a job, Dad would create a side hustle — working for his father’s plumbing business, hauling freight in a semi-truck, working the family ranch, selling pipe for corrals as I remember — and my parents would nervously piece together their $250 weekly meager income to cover their bills for a family of five.
As the years went on, Dad rose in the ranks. With more seniority, he gained more “trips,” and in time our family financial picture changed enough for us to gain our place in the middle class. Just this year, Dad retired with a generous employee-sponsored pension and a halfway-decent 401(k).
Life would not have even existed for me if it were not for my father belonging to a union that was powerful enough to fight for our family. Union benefits that insured a hospital stay and a respirator for a month while my premature-baby lungs developed both saved my life and did not bankrupt us.
Even as my extended family was counting down the months leading up to my father’s retirement, the picture for most American workers became much bleaker. The bubble of decent union jobs in my railroad hometown are now an anomaly. Just 10% of American salaried and hourly workers are in a union today and even they are under attack from everyone from the White House to the state houses to the Supreme Court.
When I was a freshman in high school, a family driving in a Ford Fiesta on a rural road crossed the railroad tracks just a couple miles in front of the train my dad was operating. The mile-long train was going 70 mph, and while he pulled the brakes, there was no way to stop the 4,000 tons of cargo from sliding across the rails. The tiny car was stuck. As the train brakes shrieked, Dad wailed. He saw the fate of the trapped family in clear view. After impact and as the train slowed down, Dad jumped out of the cab. The three adults in the car were dead, but from behind the smashed passenger seat he heard a little voice crying, “Help me!” He delicately pulled the child from the car and held him until help arrived. Dad came home that night a different person. About a week later, the little boy died in the ICU. My father was never really the same after that, nor am I as I retell his story.
Soon after the tragedy, the railroad began an investigation. There was a sense of unease in our house. We knew that the train wreck was an accident, but what if Dad lost his job? With representation by the United Transportation Union (now SMART Transportation Division), he attended numerous hearings to testify in his case. He also attended counseling for PTSD. Over the course of several weeks, my father, Kelley McCauley, was cleared of any wrongdoing and returned to work without being penalized.
But this kind of employee protection in the USA is dying. We are now tied with Malaysia in being the easiest places in the world to terminate employees. Furthermore, we are pushing out stable jobs with the expansion of “alternative work arrangements,” like that of Donna’s daughter and her friend. According to federal employment numbers, the U.S. economy grew 94 percent from 2005-2015 — not in union jobs but in freelance and subcontractor jobs, with temp agencies, and in what is hilariously yet tragically called “the gig economy.” There is a straight line from the decline of unions to the rise in crappy jobs. Union members do not have “gig” jobs.
Back in October, I traveled home for Dad’s retirement party in Arizona. As we gathered in the American Legion Hall, half of those in attendance had been, like my dad, newly minted into the challenging club simply called “retirees.” And while my father and his colleagues have the protection of their union in retirement, the employees that follow them may not.
In January 2019, The New Republic magazine reported that Elwood, Ill., (population 2,000) near where I live and work as a community organizer with an affiliate of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, had been completely taken over by entrepreneurs whose “business plan” was to staff warehouses surrounding Warren Buffett’s Center Point Intermodal Freight Terminal for retailers such as Wal-Mart, Ikea, Home Depot and Amazon. Elwood was promised a bill of goods: Good jobs being the main one. Instead, the temp agencies have consistently hired people (in situations similar to Donna’s daughter and her friend) on 90-day trials, most of which never lead to full-time employment. These non-unionized workers are often “let go” and then hired for another 90 days by one of the temp agencies in Will County (which are sometimes owned by the same “entrepreneurs”). They never land that full-time job with benefits they need and crave that part of the American dream that my parents achieved.
Here is what makes me so angry: The same railroad that my father just retired from is the same railroad that stops at Warren Buffett’s Intermodal Freight Terminal in Elwood, loading and unloading large heavy freight cars, running back and forth across warehouses the size of five football fields, and then driving it to our house — in two-days or less — for our personal convenience. And many of us think that is great! It’s not great. It is wrong. Period.
Marilyn Robinson in her book, The Death of Adam, writes that worker protections, the two-day weekend and the living wage with benefits were “largely willed and reformed into existence” following the carnage of slavery and the Industrial Revolution. Is another revolution needed to help us see that our instant consumer gratification has a human cost? Is another revolution needed to stir the imagination of American workers to see the inherent value of organizing and collective bargaining?
I personally believe so. I think you do too. Let’s do something about it.
Adrienne A. McCauley is lead organizer for DuPage United and the Fox River Valley Initiative in the Chicago suburbs and exurbs of Illinois which are fiercely non-partisan, institutionally based, relational-power affiliates of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). Her father is a retired member of SMART TD Local 113 in Winslow, Ariz.
Born in 1930, Art Hanford began his railroad career as a darkroom technician for the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Railway in 1953. While with the C&O, he earned a reputation as a quality photographer and writer. He was a trusted employee of Cyrus Eaton, the C&O Board Chairman at the time, and accompanied him on many trips to The Greenbrier Resort, then owned by the railroad, in White Sulfur Springs, WV.
In 1958 he went to work for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) as photographer-reporter and continued to earn credit for his work on the union’s publications. During this time, Art spent many years working with the BLE Grand Chief, Guy Brown. At that time, the BLE had over 60,000 members.
Early in 1967, Art moved to Chicago as managing editor of Railway Purchasing & Stores, one of several magazines, including Railway Age, published by Simmons Boardman.
Later that same year, Art accepted a position back in Ohio from the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen as Assistant Editor of Trainman News, the official BRT member publication. Charles Luna was president at the time.
In 1969, the BRT merged with three other rail unions to form the United Transportation Union, where Luna was named the new union’s president. In 1971, Al Chesser became Luna’s successor as president of the UTU until 1979, who was then followed by Fred Hardin (until 1991).
Art Hanford retired in 1990, with his last held position being the UTU’s Director of Internal Communications. At that time, the union had approximately 90,000 members.
Among the most memorable trips for Art were those traveling with engineers on steam locomotives, which were fast disappearing. He was also assigned to take pictures of Queen Elizabeth II in 1959 on a Royal train trip through Canada. Other celebrities he photographed in his career were Ben Hogan while playing in a golf tournament at the Greenbrier.
Art wrote several books after he retired, including a yet-to-be-published autobiography titled “Writing on the Railroad.” Art’s son, Guy Hanford, indicated that the family plans to finish publishing the book in honor of their father.
Art Hanford died peacefully surrounded by his family on Friday, March 15, 2019. He is survived by his wife Janice of 66 years.
Willis Croonquist, of Local 1177 (Willmar, Minn.), a former United Transportation Union Minnesota state legislative director and alternate national legislative director in the 1980s and ’90s, died Jan. 24. He was 81.
Croonquist had been a member of the union since 1955, and served as a guiding light to many on the legislative side of the union, including current National Legislative Director John Risch.
“Over the years, Willis was much more than a union brother,” said John Risch, national legislative director for SMART TD. “He was my mentor and a dear friend. He was well-liked and was well respected, which is what made him a very effective Minnesota legislative director and UTU alternate national legislative director.”
Risch continued, “Willis was always fun to be with. He knew how to have a good time and when I was with him I had a good time, too. He will be missed … I miss him already.”
Past UTU President Thomas DuBose offered his personal condolences in a message to Croonquist’s family:
“Please know that the death of my longtime friend Willis was received with shock and much sadness,” DuBose wrote. “Our years of friendship will always be an important entry in my book of memories.
“Without question, the American labor movement lost a leading trade unionist and political activist in every sense of the word, with his passing.”
Members of Local 1177 (Willmar, Minn.) gathered in December 2010 to present former Alternate National Legislative Director and Minnesota State Legislative Director Willis Croonquist with a brass lantern commemorating his then-55 years as a member of the UTU.
Croonquist’s career was steeped in politics. Not only did he work on the UTU’s legislative side, but he was also a Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party national delegate and counted U.S. Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale among his friends.
In an article published in September 2000 in the UTU News, Croonquist talked about how Humphrey inspired him politically.
“I was a young brakeman when I first heard Humphrey speak,” he said, “and he lit a fire under me.”
Croonquist began his career as a fireman on the Great Northern in 1955, and joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen. Just short of the requisite 10 years of seniority to become an engineer, a movement to eliminate firemen resulted in Croonquist becoming a brakeman and a member of the Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen.
Elected local legislative representative in 1968, he found his way onto the state legislative board, and in 1984 became state legislative director, a post he held for nine years. In 1991, he was elected UTU assistant national legislative director but resigned in 1993 when the railroad offered a buyout and the Designated Legal Counsel law firm Hunegs, Stone, LeNeave, Kvas & Thornton, sought his expertise as an investigator.
After leaving the railroad, Croonquist still maintained his contributions to the union’s political action committee. In 2011, he appeared with family members in an ad promoting UTUIA products that appeared in the UTU News in 2011. He also was honored by Local 1177 for his then-55 years of continuous membership with a brass lantern presented at a meeting of his home local in December 2010.
“He was known by many in the government affairs, philanthropic and religious community and loved by all who spent time with him,” said Minnesota State Legislative Director Philip Qualy. “For our 1,200 members and many retirees across Minnesota, I offer my sincere condolences to the Croonquist family.”
Carl Cochran, a former Florida state legislative director and the national coordinator of the SMART TD Alumni Association, worked with Croonquist and offered condolences as well.
“What is sad is that not all our sisters and brothers were able to get to know Brother Croonquist — a great union person and family man,” Cochran said.
Visitation is scheduled 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, with services 11 a.m., Monday, Feb. 11, at St. Barnabas Lutheran Church, 15600 Old Rockford Road, Plymouth, Minn.
Brother Alfred “Al” H. Chesser, 102, a champion of the American rail worker and first-elected president of the United Transportation Union (UTU), died Sunday, September 25, 2016.
On January 1, 1969, the UTU (now known as SMART Transportation Division) was formed, and Chesser was appointed to the role of UTU national legislative director. In 1971, at the UTU’s first convention, Chesser was elected to serve as president. He won the post again in 1975, serving until 1979.
A brakeman from Wellington, Kan., Chesser’s life was framed by his service to the men and women on America’s railroads as well as his immeasurable contributions to the advancement of labor in every area. His efforts brought concerns and issues of rail members and unions into the national spotlight and onto the law books.
His rare ability to form bonds with members and officers in the UTU’s early days was critical to its success. A leader and mentor, Chesser created an open and positive atmosphere that not only inspired workers to join, but also inspired members to follow in his path of local and national advocacy.
As the voice of transportation members on Capitol Hill, Chesser’s legacy reflects his effective legislative outreach that strengthened the foundation of the UTU and all transportation unions.
His work influenced key safety issues and resulted in legislation that includes The Railway Safety Act and The Hours of Service Act. He also served as a member of the Task Force on Railroad Safety, a committee that developed the most comprehensive industry safety program ever adopted.
His lifelong commitment to the UTU was paralleled by his grace and humility. Whether speaking with a U.S. president or railroad brakeman, Chesser treated everyone with dignity, respect and kindness.
Brother Chesser’s inspiring life and legacy touched the lives of countless people, and he will never be forgotten.
Click here to view a tribute to Al Chesser. This video was created by producer/director Lisa Long of Garrison Ridge Productions Inc., for SMART Transportation Division, in celebration of Al Chesser’s 100th birthday, February 26, 2014.
Visitation and Funeral Services for Brother Chesser:
Visitation is scheduled for Friday, September 30 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Horan & McConaty Funeral Home, 5303 E. County Line Road, Centennial, CO 80122. Funeral services will be held Saturday, October 1 at 10 a.m. at the Littleton Church of Christ, 6495 S. Colorado Blvd., Centennial, CO 80121. A private interment will follow the funeral services at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
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