UTU Assistant President and International Vice President John Previsich has been named to the additional post of UTU general secretary and treasurer (GS&T) by the UTU Board of Directors.
Previsich also will continue handling assignments as an International vice president, but those assignments will be pared down given his new duties.
Previsich succeeds GS&T Kim Thompson, who retired Dec. 31. UTU International Vice President Delbert Strunk had been elevated to that post, effective Jan. 1, but Strunk chose, instead, to retire Dec. 31.
The UTU Board of Directors made additional appointments:
* UTU Alternate Vice President Troy Johnson becomes an International vice president, succeeding International Vice President Paul Tibbit, who retired Dec. 1.
* UTU Alternate Vice President John England becomes an International vice president, filling a position vacated by Strunk.
* Vice General Chairperson Jeremy Ferguson (CSX, GO 049) and General Chairperson Brent Leonard (Union Pacific, GO 953) become alternate vice presidents, filling the positions of alternate vice president vacated by Johnson and England.
Additionally, the United Transportation Union Insurance Association (UTUIA) Board of Directors elected Bruce Feltmeyer as general secretary and treasurer of UTUIA, succeeding Kim Thompson in that position. Feltmeyer also holds the position of director of staff at the UTU Headquarters in North Olmsted, Ohio.
Biographies of the new officers are available – or will become available in the case of Ferguson and Leonard – at http://www.utu.org/ by clicking on “About the UTU,” then clicking on “officers” and scrolling down to the names.
Feltmeyer’s biography is available at http://www.utu.org/ by clicking on “About the UTU,” then clicking on “UTU/UTUIA Staff” and scrolling down to his name.
Kim Thompson, general secretary & treasurer of the UTU International and the UTU Insurance Association since 2008, will retire Dec. 31.
The UTU Board of Directors has elected International Vice President Delbert Strunk to succeed Thompson Jan. 1. Strunk will retain his position as an International vice president.
Also, International Vice President Paul Tibbit will retire Dec. 1, but the UTU board has not yet elected a successor.
UTU International President Mike Futhey praised Thompson as “one of the most dedicated union officers I have had the honor and privilege to work with. Kim’s stewardship of UTU and UTUIA finances is a principal reason both organizations have meaningfully improved their bottom lines in spite of this lengthy economic downturn.
“Delbert Strunk is one of the most loyal and hardworking of International officers,” Futhey said. “His experience at all levels and facets of this organization will ensure a seamless transition.
“The retirement of Paul Tibbit will be felt throughout the UTU, as his assistance to general committees in negotiating contracts and successfully pursuing grievances has earned him deep respect from all who have benefited from his expertise and advice,” Futhey said.
Thompson, who will be 65 in January, began his railroad career in 1966 as a brakeman on the Moberly Division of the former Wabash Railway (later merged into Norfolk & Western, and now part of Norfolk Southern). He was promoted to conductor in 1972 following four years of U.S. Navy service.
In 1975, Thompson was elected president and chairperson of Local 226, Moberly, Mo., representing conductors, brakemen and yardmen, and was elected by his local as a delegate to two UTU conventions. He was elected legislative representative of his local in 1976.
In 1985, Thompson was elected a full-time vice general chairperson (GO 719, merged in 1998 into GO 687), and elected general chairperson of GO 719 in 1989, representing conductors, brakemen, yardmen, firemen and engineers on the former Wabash lines of Norfolk Southern.
Thompson was elected to the UTU International’s Executive Board in 1987, and served as board chairperson for eight years. In 1995, he was elected UTU International first alternate vice president for the South; and elevated to UTU International vice president in 1997.
He served as vice president until he was elected general secretary & treasurer at the UTU International convention in 2007. He took office Oct. 1, 2007, upon the retirement of GS&T Dan Johnson.
From 1988 through 1997, Thompson served on the board of the Wabash Memorial Hospital Association in Decatur, Ill.
“My impending retirement comes with mixed feelings,” Thompson said. “There is always another task to do. There is always someone in need of help. But I have learned that there is someone to step up as I once did and the time comes for them, just as it did for me.
“I am indebted to Jim Oliver, former Local 881, Montpelier, Ohio, a vice general chairperson who taught me that preparation fosters success. I am also thankful for Tom DuBose, who taught me to take care of business and the rest will take care of itself. And I will forever be thankful to Mike Futhey for his leadership through the most challenging time faced by this organization.
“I am thankful for the love and support of my bride, Connie, and her sacrifices in following my dream and I look forward to our time being ours.”
Thompson and his wife, Connie, have five children and five grandchildren.
Strunk, 62, began his career in 1973 as a brakeman on the Cleveland Division of New York, Chicago & St. Louis (Nickel Plate, which later merged into Norfolk & Western and is now part of Norfolk Southern.) He was promoted to conductor in 1977.
In 1975, Strunk was elected legislative representative of Local 225, Bellevue, Ohio, which represents conductors, trainmen, yardmen and engineers. Over the next 35 years, Strunk held the offices of vice local chairperson, local chairperson, alternate legislative representative, legislative representative, general secretary (GO 687) and delegate to the 2007 UTU convention.
In 1983, Strunk was elected as general secretary of GO 687; he was elected full-time general chairperson of the general committee in 1989. Strunk served as general chairperson, representing conductors, trainmen, yardmen and engineers, for the next 20-plus years.
In 1998, Strunk merged GO 719 (former Wabash) into GO 687 (former Nickel Plate), forming what is now one of the largest general committees on Norfolk Southern. Strunk was elected alternate vice president-East in 2007, was elevated to International vice president in July 2009 and was re-elected International vice president in 2011.
He was elected as vice chairperson for the District No. 1 General Chairpersons’ Association and was elevated to the position of chairperson when the former chairperson retired.
Strunk has been appointed to the last three UTU national negotiating committees, as well as appointed to the National Wage and Rules Panel. He served as chairperson of the 2007 UTU Constitution Committee and is a member of the UTU Board of Directors.
Strunk and his wife, Diane, have four children and 16 grandchildren.
Paul Tibbit, 65 and from Texarkana, Tex., is a member of Local 331 at Temple, Tex.
He served in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1968 and began his rail career with Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (now part of BNSF) in 1971.
He has served the UTU as a local secretary & treasurer, local chairperson and general chairperson of GO 393.
Tibbit was elected alternate vice president-West in 2007, elevated to International vice president in 2009, and elected an International vice president at the 2011 quadrennial convention.
As a young railroad employee, I wondered why we had the wages and benefits that we had, why we had rules for assignments and for the work we performed. I wondered what could be done to make things right when things didn’t seem right. Only then did I attend my first local meeting.
I discovered local officers conduct the meeting in an orderly fashion and officers give reports related to their positions. I discovered that due to our collectively bargained agreement, a grievance process exists through which we can submit claims for violation of our rights. But what are those rights? What is the contract?
Further interest revealed that our “contract” is actually a compendium of many agreements made over a period of time. The Railway Labor Act provides that all agreements remain in effect until changed. They do not expire. This means that interpretation is required as to what earlier agreements have been changed by later agreements, and interpretation can be made only by the parties to agreement — the UTU and the carriers.
Had my local not held regular meetings, I would not have had an opportunity to learn the basics of how my union works. Had my local officers not conducted meetings in an orderly and professional manner, I would not have learned about my contract and how it is applied.
I don’t recall ever being invited to attend my first local meeting. Maybe I was invited, but too self-centered or all-knowing to care. Maybe I was too busy to take the time.
I have learned much about this industry in the years since my early local meetings, but the foundation for my understanding began there. I am eternally grateful for that opportunity, and for the desire to learn from a reliable source.
My message to you is to attend your local meetings.
Be active and take part in discussions. Ask questions of your local officers. If so moved, run for local office. The more you become involved, the more of an asset you are to your union.
Most importantly, ask a member to attend your local meeting, especially the young members. We can all make a difference.
Nobody spends someone else’s dollars as carefully as we spend our own.
The UTU International leadership is especially sensitive to the fact that members entrust us with their own hard-earned dollars, and every member rightfully expects their union to gain the most value for their dues money. We do not take this obligation lightly.
Since taking office in January 2008, we have instituted new cost controls and conservative investment policies that, even in the face of significant furloughs by rail carriers and problems in financial markets, have made the UTU more efficient and financially secure.
The International’s General Fund, as detailed in the most recent GS&T report, has grown since the Futhey administration took office almost 18 months ago — from $2.1 million to $4 million, which is a 90 percent increase.
The General Fund pays for International operations, including employee wages and benefits, travel tied to assistance provided general and local committees of adjustment, and headquarters rent.
Separately, our strike fund has grown by 45 percent, to $2.7 million, and our convention fund is on track to have the necessary minimum on hand to pay traditional and contemplated costs of the eleventh quadrennial convention in 2011.
Total International funds have grown from $7.5 million, when we took office in January 2008, to more than $13 million, which is an increase of more than 70 percent. This is in the face of sharp carrier cutbacks of employees — many being UTU members — in response to a sour economy.
Among cost-cutting actions was the reduction of one full-time administrative officer in the Cleveland headquarters and redistribution of that work to headquarters staff and other International officers. We have gone from 15 full-time International officers to 11, which is more than a 25 percent reduction.
Travel expenses have been reduced by combining International officer assignments and assigning officers geographically closer to the committees they are assisting. Every travel expense is checked to ensure it is necessary and proper.
Our International funds are invested conservatively so they are available when needed without undue risk of principal.
Our investment advisers are paid directly for sound financial advice and do not profit by moving our money from one investment alternative to another, or as a percentage of short-term investment gains. As a result, our International finances have withstood the effects of this recession and associated financial calamities far better than most organizations.
The UTUIA, meanwhile, earned more than $300,000 from operations during the first quarter of 2009. The UTUIA remains strong with more than $23 million in surplus, as recently validated through an annual audit.
As for the DIPP, premiums exceeded claims for the first quarter 2009, which boosted the fund’s balance. We continue monitoring this fund, as claims are tied directly to the level of carrier discipline.
We have met — and continue to meet — with carrier officers to discuss what we consider to be arbitrary discipline that unjustifiably damages employee morale, impeding our ultimate goal of providing world-class transportation service.
At the local level, we are assisting local treasurers through workshops, individual assistance and the UTU University to better equip them to carry out their duties in managing their local’s funds.
The financial state of the United Transportation Union is strong and secure, and we intend to keep it that way through careful spending and improved productivity within every department and through every activity of the International.
This is another in a series of what will be many leadership messages to our membership.
Our first week in office involved:
Familiarizing ourselves with the day-to-day operation of the International;
Assessing the financial condition of the UTU and the UTUIA;
Reviewing activities of the past few months that affect our union going forward;
Assessing the needs of general committees;
Assigning projects to International officers based on priorities and specific skills; and,
Working feverishly to assure that our cherished craft autonomy is not sacrificed through what has been revealed as a too-hastily concluded merger agreement.
We are also preparing to meet with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee Jan. 22 for the first national contract negotiations held in more than a year.
As you are aware, we have five new International vice presidents. Also, there have been abolished four U.S. International vice president positions, and two in Canada, which constitutes a significant cost savings for our union.
This major transition required a thorough review of assignments, which we are in the process of completing. Within the next few days, all current International officers will have been given their new assignments.
We are also working with the National Mediation Board to jump-start grievance handling at that level following a lengthy delay owing to a congressional budget deadlock that required the NMB to halt all travel for neutrals.
Another area of concern is passenger railroads, including Amtrak and commuter carriers. As you are aware, a Presidential Emergency Board made non-binding recommendations this month in an effort to settle a collective bargaining impasse between Amtrak and eight of its unions. The UTU is not one of those unions.
The UTU has been in difficult negotiations with Amtrak since August 2000, on behalf of some 2,600 Amtrak conductors, assistant conductors and yardmasters.
A significant sticking point in our negotiations is Amtrak’s demand that management have an unrestricted right to determine the staffing level of passenger trains, which could mean the elimination of many assistant conductor positions.
We have been resolute in our insistence that the assistant conductor is absolutely essential for passenger safety and security — especially in this post-9/11 environment. To this end, the U.S. Department of Transportation, at the direction of Congress, has commenced a study on that issue and we are confident our position will be validated by the federal government.
In the meantime, we continue our effort to gain for our Amtrak-employed members an equitable agreement on wages, benefits and working conditions, which includes the back pay already recommended by the PEB for the other organizations. On Amtrak, we are also mindful of actions by management to eliminate many yardmaster positions.
The federal study into the safety and security-related roles of Amtrak conductors and assistant conductors could also provide protection for UTU-represented assistant conductors employed in commuter operations.
We are reminding our negotiators of a conclusion by a special Presidential Railroad Commission — created by President Kennedy in 1962 — that, “In this [railroad] industry, whatever may be said of others, the employees have a legitimate collective bargaining interest in the matter of crew consist, and it is our view that the collective bargaining process should remain the basic method for resolving disputes concerning this matter.”
As gasoline prices skyrocket, air travel becomes more problematic and the population ages, Americans are voting increasingly with the feet and wallets to ride Amtrak and the various commuter rail systems nationwide. The growing demand for high-speed regional rail and expanded commuter rail also provides new opportunity for organizing the unorganized.
The UTU also will work with Amtrak and commuter railroads to ensure freight railroads do not discriminate against passenger operations by denying them the priority dispatch access to which they are entitled. We will also lobby at the state and congressional level for sufficient public funding for new and expanded commuter and transit services.
Another subject we are investigating is the appointment last July of a sitting UTU president to the advisory board of the American Income Life Insurance Co., which competes with our own UTUIA. That appointment may have constituted a conflict of interest with his position as a director and chief executive officer of the UTUIA, and we will report to you on the results of that investigation. We stress that this is not a matter of “going after” a former officer, but a matter of protecting UTUIA.
We also are following the unfortunate demise and pending liquidation of Big Sky Airlines. Protection of our members employed by Big Sky is our number one priority, and the UTU law department is researching all options to ensure the letter of the law and collective bargaining agreements are followed.
Bus operators and mechanics represented by the UTU also are important to us, and we will devote what ever resources are required to assist our bus locals in negotiating equitable contracts, and to organize unorganized properties.
We also pledge to continue efforts before Congress to right the wrong of prior federal legislation that puts each commercial driver’s license at risk for even minor traffic violations when operating a private automobile. We also are working with Congress to gain additional federal funding for training of bus operators, and means of increasing the physical protection of drivers from assaults by passengers.
Additionally, we are seeing an increase in demand for bus travel — local and intercity — throughout the nation as the price of gasoline soars. This is especially so in rural and low population areas without air service. The UTU will be encouraging communities and states to devote additional tax revenue to enhancing local and intercity bus service, which also will create new organizing opportunities for the UTU.
Clearly, we have a lot on our plates. Our union is especially fortunate to have highly skilled, loyal and determined officers and staff at the International, general committee and local levels, as well as in state legislative and provincial board offices, whose advice and assistance is crucial to providing second-to-none service to all our members.