October 1, 2014

Obama walks the walk with labor

By International President Mike Futhey

The most successful military generals are those who care best for their troops, walk among their troops and listen intently to their ideas and concerns.

This week in Denver, Barack Obama, who consistently expresses his support for working families, as well as improved rail and transit service in America, reached out to a union-represented railroader to address the Democratic National Convention.

Separately, Joe Biden, before departing for Denver, visited the Wilmington, Del., train station to visit with Amtrak employees and passengers. According to the Wilmington newspaper, Sen. Biden even took note that the Amtrak conductor, who usually manages his morning commuter train to Washington, was not working that day.

For sure, the Obama/Biden ticket is one that walks the walk — not just talks the talk — on working family issues, as well as rail and transit issues. I know. I heard it first hand in Denver, while attending the Democratic National Convention.

Although I haven’t had opportunity yet to speak with Sen. Obama or Sen. Biden directly, I did meet in Denver with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Congressman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee; former Vice President Walter Mondale; and Al Franken, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota.

All five inquired of the UTU’s position on rail issues, and all five recalled instances where Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden had stood up for unionized rail, transit and bus workers, and how Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden vocally and emphatically supported more local, state, regional and federal funding for public transportation.

In Denver, on the convention’s opening night, it was a dream come true for Amtrak 20-year machinist Mike Fisher, who was given three minutes in the spotlight in the Pepsi Center to express his support for Sen. Obama.

Mr. Fisher, employed in Amtrak’s Beech Grove, Ind., shops, first met Sen. Obama in April, at an Indianapolis campaign stop, after which the senator and his wife, Michelle, visited the Fisher home and sat with the Fishers at their dining room table.

During that conversation, Mike Fisher expressed concern for his job, given the perennial attempts by conservatives in Congress to gut Amtrak. Mr. Fisher also mentioned to Sen. Obama his concern that a daughter-in-law had been denied reimbursement by a health insurer for surgery following a complicated pregnancy.

Sen. Obama invited Mr. Fisher to introduce him a few days later before an Indianapolis crowd of Obama supporters. Then came the invitation to address the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“After meeting him and talking to him and seeing how down-to-earth he was with us and understanding, he just sold me 100 percent,” Mr. Fisher said from the convention’s podium.

“[Back in April], as soon as Barack Obama came up on our front porch and shook my hand, he put me at ease,” Mr. Fisher told the convention delegates. “We went inside, and Barack put his elbows up on the kitchen table and listened. It was like talking with family. It became clear that they are regular people. Barack and Michelle grew up dealing with the same challenges most of us face. It’s pretty clear he can relate to working people and those who are struggling.”

Mr. Fisher’s talk to the Democratic National Convention followed one by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and preceded a talk by the president of the Chicago chapter of the Service Employees’ International Union.

Mr. Fisher received roaring applause for his final lines: “Barack Obama is the only person I trust to do the right thing for all of us. That’s why I’m here tonight and that’s why he’s my choice for president.”

I couldn’t agree more.