Delivering on the theme of the 2012 regional meetings – “We will not back down” – UTU International President Mike Futhey told more than 1,000 attendees at the Memphis meeting how the UTU is using every tool available – negotiations, legislative and legal — to defend its members’ jobs and workplace safety.

* On the Belt Railway of Chicago, where the carrier is demanding contract changes to permit one person crews at carrier discretion, the UTU has asked the National Mediation Board to declare a bargaining impasse. Belt Railway General Chairperson Chris Votteler’s negotiating team, assisted by International Vice President Delbert Strunk, faces a carrier that refuses to take crew consist changes off the table – three years following start of negotiations — even though the carrier is party to a moratorium on the issue.

“We will take every action necessary to protect our members’ jobs. We will not stand down on crew consist,” Futhey said.

* As to conductor certification — mandated by Congress and put into regulatory language by the Federal Railroad Administration – Norfolk Southern has filed an FRA-required certification plan without discussion and coordination with general chairpersons.

The NS proposed plan seeks to provide a pilot for remedial training only for conductors who have not traveled over a territory for 36 months, rather than the 12 months required in current agreements; and then seeks to place the burden of notification solely on the conductor rather than tracking the time period electronically. Additionally, the NS plan does not discuss procedures it will follow in an investigation even though FRA regulations require railroads to provide all documents and the list of witnesses prior to a hearing.

Futhey said the UTU will not permit “a tortured interpretation” of congressional and FRA intent, and will work to ensure every railroad follows the letter and intent of the law and regulations prior to the required Sept. 1 deadline for certifying conductors.

* In Pennsylvania, Norfolk Southern is attempting to disregard state safety laws and regulations through federal preemption affecting workplace safety at hump yards. “We will take every action necessary to prevent railroads from weakening workplace safety protections, whether at the state or federal level,” Futhey said.

* Pointing to millions of dollars in fines assessed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against railroads that have harassed, intimidated, disciplined and fired workers for reporting injuries and workplace safety concerns, Futhey reminded members that UTU designated legal counsel is pledged to assist in bringing and pursuing such complaints. Information on filing these complaints is available at the UTU website at www.utu.org by searching “OSHA.”

“We are not going to allow carriers to continue their pattern of harassment and intimidation of workers who are injured on the job,” Futhey said. “The FRA and OSHA recently signed a letter of intent to investigate jointly all complaints of carrier harassment and intimidation, and the FRA has informed each carrier of its intent to work with OSHA to end the long-standing practice of carriers disciplining injured workers “where the facts fail to support the charges. We are lawyered up, too, and will take this to wherever we must to protect the interests of our members.”

* Recalling the horrific murder of a UTU-member bus driver in Los Angeles, the fatal shooting of a train-crew member near New Orleans, and assaults on bus operators and intrusions into locomotive cabs by armed robbers elsewhere, Futhey said the UTU is working with lawmakers and regulators to implement better safeguards for its air, bus and rail members. The FRA recently imposed a requirement that all new and remanufactured locomotive cabs be equipped with secure cab locks.

“I promise every member that the UTU will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our members to ensure their safety. Our voice will be heard,” Futhey said.

As to the state of the union, Futhey said the International’s general fund balance is improving as carriers bring back furloughed workers, that the UTU Insurance Association now has a $28 million surplus and is financially strong, and the Discipline Income Protection Plan (DIPP) is financially sound with more than $10 million in assets.

Futhey emphasized that while competing plans often seek ways to deny payment of claims, the UTU’s DIPP is aggressive in paying claims. Futhey cited an example of two workers on the same assignment on CSX – one covered by the UTU’s DIPP and the other by a competing plan – who were both suspended. “Where the competing plan denied the claim, DIPP paid the claim. End of story.”

As for the UTU’s disability insurance plan covering bus and rail members, Futhey said it has paid out more than $22 million in disability benefits for off-duty injuries and is proving to be a valuable benefit.

As to organizing, Futhey said that since January 2008, when he took office, the UTU has an unprecedented record of organizing one new property every seven weeks. One of the first post-merger coordinations has been the joint strengthening with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association of organizing efforts, which makes greater resources available for organizing transportation, building trades and production workers.

Futhey also explained how the UTU negotiating strategy in national handling has already paid off for rail members covered by the national rail contract.

“When we entered  national rail contract negotiations, our strategy was to hold the monthly cost sharing premium under $200 — rather than allow it to escalate to $300 or more — in exchange for somewhat higher copays,” Futhey said. “The Affordable Care Act now eliminates many of those copays, saving affected members out-of-pocket for many health care services while those members enjoy one of the lowest cost-sharing premiums in the public and private sectors.”

UTU International President Mike Futhey

International President Mike Futhey

SAN ANTONIO — Stronger protections for members, improved finances, successful organizing drives and superior wage and benefits agreements characterize the United Transportation Union in 2011, International President Mike Futhey told some 600 attendees in his state-of-the-union report at the first of two 2011 regional meetings here June 22.

“Before this administration took office Jan. 1, 2008, people said we couldn’t organize, couldn’t negotiate with carriers and couldn’t solve the union’s financial problems,” Futhey said. “We proved them wrong on each allegation. The UTU is stronger than ever.

“As this administration completes its fourth year in office,” said Futhey, “an average of one new air, bus, rail or transit property has been organized every seven weeks, two national rail agreements have been negotiated providing a combined 40 percent wage increase, the latest tentative agreement provides the highest increase in excess of the Consumer Price Index in the UTU’s 41-year history, and UTU and UTUIA finances have been improved dramatically.

“The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund helped finance a petition drive in Ohio that put on hold – pending a November voter referendum — a bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights,” Futhey said. “In Wisconsin, UTU members were among the leaders of a successful petition drive forcing supporters of an anti-union bill to face recall elections in July and August. The Ohio and Wisconsin efforts forced political extremists in Indiana to shelve legislation to eliminate collective bargaining rights.

“UTU political activism has awakened and outraged voters in numerous states where political extremists are attacking middle-class values, including efforts to curtail their ability to vote through tougher registration procedures and fewer absentee voting days,” Futhey said. “We will do all we can to protect the integrity of the voting system.”

At the UTU International, said Futhey, automated billing and auditing, coupled with targeted cost cutting, reassignment of functions and upgrading of information technology allowed International funds to increase from $7.5 million to nearly $16 million. “There is no proposal for a dues increase at the upcoming quadrennial convention,” Futhey said.

The Discipline Income Protection Program reserve fund was turned from a $2 million loss in 2007 to a positive balance of more than $5 million today, “allowing sufficient funds to provide the protection UTU members expect and deserve,” Futhey said. “The UTU Insurance Association surplus has been made stronger and now stands at near $26 million.

“Our computer-based UTU University – a classroom without walls – is training officers to better serve their members at the negotiating table and in grievance handling,” Futhey said. “The awards data search engine has been improved, regional meeting workshops have been expanded to meet member requests, iLink provides better access to controlling awards and offers secure chat rooms for various levels of elected officers to exchange information and ideas.”

Among other achievements cited by Futhey:

  • The redesigned UTU website includes a Membership Toolbox with answers to member concerns and questions; and allows a feedback to UTU officers. “Member questions and concerns will be answered,” Futhey said.
  • A federally funded agreement was reached with Amtrak for the UTU to train employees to deal with unruly passengers; and another is being finalized with Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis to train workers to recognize, respond to and report terrorist threats. Discussions are underway to expand these training programs to other carriers.
  • Legislative activities succeeded in gaining conductor certification, minimum training standards, a requirement that an injured employee’s doctor — not the carrier — determine when to return to work, a prohibition against denying injured workers medical care or disciplining them for reporting injuries, and installation of positive train control.
  • The UTU is working with friends in Congress to amend the Rail Safety Improvement Act to require a 10-hour call for all unassigned road service; allow regular yard jobs only eight hours off-duty between shifts; require yardmaster assignments be covered by hours-of-service provisions; require advance notice of interim release periods; and a limitation on limbo time to a maximum of two hours for each tour of duty.
  • On behalf of our bus and transit members, the UTU is working to gain limitations on revocation of a commercial driver’s license for traffic violations when operating a personal automobile, a better appeals process for drivers taken out of service, limitations on civil actions against drivers, mandatory training for drivers, federal grants to assist with training of bus officers in negotiating skills, and greater flexibility to use transit capital grants for operating costs to preserve service and jobs.
  • On behalf of airline members the UTU is working to preserve Essential Air Services grants and improve safety provisions for pilots and flight attendants.
  • The UTU is working within the AFL-CIO to prevent privatization of Railroad Retirement, Social Security and Medicare. “Political extremists will not mess with your retirement,” Futhey said.

“This administration has delivered on its promises,” Futhey said. “Our record speaks for itself. We will never back up. We will never back down. We will always move forward.”

 

By International President Mike Futhey

Are things better now than they were three years ago?

Have you witnessed an improvement in representation, union finances, internal procedures and management transparency since Arty Martin, Kim Thompson and I took office Jan. 1, 2008?

Here are the facts:

  • Union bank balances, after payment of expenses, improved in each successive month (with the exception of two months each year with three staff payrolls) — more than doubling since 2007.

General Secretary & Treasurer Kim Thompson aggressively cut operating costs; and UTU International officers reduced travel expenses through coordination of assignments and expanded use of electronic communications.

The UTU International’s move to smaller, more efficient headquarters space, and the addition of modern computers, will further reduce costs, while improving member services.

  • UTU Insurance Association reserves stand at $24 million as the UTUIA added policyholders and proved its products to be secure and price competitive.
  • Discipline Income Protection Plan (DIPP) reserves now exceed $8 million. Instead of the DIPP facing liquidation as it did three years ago, it now aggressively protects members by paying claims that competing plans frequently disallow.
  • Increased research, drawing on senior staff skills in finance and economics, made the UTU a more formidable presence at the bargaining table. More in-depth research into carrier finances provides credible justification for our Section 6 notices.
  • The workload of local treasurers has been cut substantially through application of Winstabs and the UTU International’s direct receipt of dues. Treasurers say that what previously took five hours to accomplish now is accomplished in one hour.
  • Organizing the unorganized brought hundreds of workers in the airline, bus, rail and transit industries into the UTU.
  • The UTU succeeded in having a bus portfolio — aimed at lobbying Congress and regulatory agencies on bus safety and driver training — added to the responsibilities of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department in Washington.
  • Not only does the UTU have a diversity program; but diversity was applied within the UTU so that every voice within the organization is heard and respected.
  • An expanded get-out-the-vote drive, using modern communication tools, is helping elect candidates to state legislatures and Congress who understand the needs of working families.

Those elected with UTU support return to seek advice from UTU state legislative directors and the UTU National Legislative Office.

The UTU Auxiliary, led by Carol Menges, works closely with the National Legislative Office assisting members and their families to register to vote and to vote on Election Day.

Increased UTU PAC contributions help elect labor-friendly candidates.

  • Since passage of the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which tightened penalties for carrier intimidation and harassment and added whistleblower protection, UTU designated legal counsel have pledged to support members each and every time a carrier violates one of the law’s provisions.
  • A UTU Rail Safety Task Force was created to supplement efforts of the UTU Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) Group and the UTU Transportation Safety Team to improve workplace safety. Results of a recent task force survey of members on fatigue, harassment and intimidation are already being reviewed by the FRA.
  • The UTU successfully partnered with Amtrak for a $300,000 federal grant for the UTU to train — by producing manuals and videos — on-board passenger-train staff in recognizing behavioral traits of terrorists and deranged individuals.

The UTU has approached the Class I railroads about expansion of the program to freight carriers. There are favorable indications that the carriers are interested.

  • Among accomplishments of the National Legislative Office was gaining an FRA requirement that, in implementing positive train control, carriers must provide separate computer screens in each cab, one for the engineer and one for the conductor, validating that two sets of eyes and ears are essential for train safety.
  • A promise was kept to yardmasters that in addition to preservation of their craft autonomy, they would continue to have a voice at the UTU International.
  • Officer training now includes additional and more needs-directed regional meetings workshops, such as training in situational awareness and for hazmat first responders.

You have become warriors through your commitment that we stand united in support of our membership.

Let the message go forth that if anybody tries to tread on us, they will be beneath our feet.