Michael Harris, a longtime staffer at the International Training Institute (ITI), has taken the reins as its administrator. A second-generation sheet metal worker, Harris got his first taste of the industry at age 16, when he spent the summer working in a sheet metal shop.

Initially opting for college, Harris later changed course and worked in a custom fabrication shop alongside his father before joining the SMART Local 20 (Indianapolis, Ind.) apprenticeship program in 1991. During the fourth year of his apprenticeship, Harris began teaching part time at the Local 20 training center, moving to full-time teaching in 1997. By 2000, Harris took over as director of training for the statewide training trust.

In 2005, Harris joined the ITI staff as a welding assessor, and in 2009 he took on the role of program administrator, overseeing programming and instructor training and managing field staff. After the retirement of James Page in 2020, Harris assumed many of the responsibilities of ITI administrator in an acting capacity, assisting Funds Administrator Daniel McCallum in running the day-to-day operations of the organization. Effective Jan. 1, Harris officially accepted the role of ITI administrator.

 “Mike has been instrumental in the success of ITI over the years,” McCallum said. “His knowledge and experience have made my job as funds administrator far easier. He is absolutely the best person for the job.”

Harris hopes to continue to build on ITI’s success, adding new instructional offerings and developing programs for the sheet metal workers of tomorrow.

“I’m excited to take on this new role at ITI,” Harris said. “I genuinely believe that the ITI trains the best and the brightest. Our instructors are top notch, our programs are among the most advanced and dynamic in the industry. And our staff is second to none.”

By General Secretary & Treasurer Kim Thompson

Just as you balance your personal checkbook and compare income to expenses in making decisions where to spend and where to save, we at UTU International make similar decisions with your dues.

Accepting responsibility to protect the interests of our members also includes accepting responsibility to use the funds entrusted to the International so as to obtain the most value from every dues dollar received.

There is no silver bullet for managing finances. Resource utilization is regularly assessed and needed adjustments are made. Demanded action is met with a cost-effective response. This same standard is applied to funds managed for the Discipline Income Protection Program and the United Transportation Union Insurance Association (UTUIA).

During the current administration, the UTU’s General Fund, accounting for most day-to-day operations of the International, has increased from $2.1 million to nearly $2.6 million.

The balances of all other funds have improved by an even greater extent, with the total of all International funds increasing from $7.5 million to nearly $16 million — an increase of 111 percent.

The Convention Fund balance assures that necessary funds are available to finance the 11th Quadrennial Convention convening in August.

This is all in spite of reduced membership owing to the deep recession and employee layoffs, and extraordinary administrative and legal expenses.

In 2007, our Discipline Income Protection Program reserve fund suffered a $2 million loss and was left with a balance of just over $5 million. Today, our reserves are at more than $9 million, assuring sufficient funds to satisfy all outstanding liabilities and provide the protection our members expect and deserve.

The UTUIA, meanwhile, earned more than $400,000 from operations during 2010, and remains financially strong with nearly $26 million in surplus.

Union assets are invested primarily in cash accounts and short term bonds, and are largely unaffected by the stock market problems.

The UTUIA, as all insurance providers — and even the Railroad Retirement Trust Fund — has assets invested in the stock market, as well as in bonds and cash accounts. But UTUIA investments are generally conservative in nature. UTUIA investment advice is obtained through independent advisers who have no financial benefit from actual transactions, but are paid on a fee-for-service basis.

Prior to this administration assuming office, it was said that the UTU was broke and could not survive on its own. In addition to precariously low reserves, our nation fell into the worse economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. During the depths of this recession, more than 15 percent of our members were furloughed.

Disciplined finance management by this administration enabled continued growth.

Now, as the railroads recall employees and hire new workers, the resulting increased receipts will add to these reserves, assuring availability of funds for continued quality representation.