April 20, 2014

Leaders report: Week one

Brothers and Sisters:

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.

In solidarity,

Mike Futhey, International President

President@utu.org

Arty Martin, Assistant President

AsstPres@utu.org

Kim Thompson, General Secretary & Treasurer

GST@utu.org