November 26, 2014

Solving problems through a positive approach

By Assistant President Arty Martin

Viewers of the cable television sitcom, Fawlty Towers, may recall an episode in which Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) beat his broken-down car with a branch, blaming the car rather than his own failure to maintain it.

Being too negatively focused on a problem rather than identifying and pursuing a workable solution can be a costly error in the workplace.

Remote control operations come to mind. For sure, remote control cost jobs, but beating up on new technology has never preserved jobs in the long run, and diverts our productive energies from crafting a positive strategy to ensure new technology is safe and that those using the new technology are properly trained and compensated for their improved skills.

An example of positive problem solving through the identification of workable solutions is a recent joint petition filed with the FRA by the UTU and the BLET seeking a safety rule requiring a qualified conductor be aboard every freight train.

Indeed, a priority of the UTU International is finding positive solutions to problems affecting our membership.

Consider other recent initiatives:

In the face of an unacceptable increase in rail-employee fatalities and career-ending injuries, a rail safety task force was appointed by UTU International President Mike Futhey to gather information and make recommendations regarding employee safety. The task force has an interactive Web page accessible from the UTU home page at www.utu.org.

Within the next couple of weeks, the task force will post a member survey on its Web page, seeking information on workplace distractions, carrier-enforced work practices, instances of worker fatigue, and other workplace safety problems.

The Web page also encourages direct communication with task force members, intended to help the task force gather detailed facts required to back-up recommendations the task force will be making to the carriers for remedial action; and, if necessary, by the UTU International to the FRA and Congress.

Moreover, the International leadership is meeting with other rail labor organizations to build a coalition aimed at convincing the carriers that intimidation, harassment and excessive discipline are jeopardizing the ability of workers to do their jobs efficiently and safely.

President Futhey’s column in the September issue of the UTU News, which will reach your mailboxes within the next 10 days, speaks more to that problem; and the column will be posted at www.utu.org next week.

President Futhey encourages members to contact local chairpersons and general chairpersons to alert them to workplace situations where members unnecessarily are forced to look over their shoulder rather than focus on doing their jobs efficiently and safely. State legislative directors should always be made aware of safety problems on the job.

A listing of contact information for International vice presidents and other senior International officers also will accompany that column. This is an open-door administration and we want to hear from you.

While the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 does not contain all we wanted — and contains some provisions we didn’t want — we are working with other rail labor organizations toward a fine-tuning of that law. The law did give us conductor certification, and President Futhey has appointed a UTU team to an FRA Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) to work toward a carrier/labor/FRA consensus on certifying conductors.

Also, in a joint submission aimed at improving safety and the security of member paychecks, the UTU and the BLET have asked the FRA to clarify and simplify its interim policies and interpretations relating to hours of service provisions of the Rail Safety Improvement Act.

Additionally, in conjunction with the BLET, we are working closely with the FRA to ensure that the FRA’s rules on Positive Train Control — whose implementation is mandated no later than 2015 by the Rail Safety Improvement Act — include provisions to ensure the technology is properly tested and monitored, that operating crews are properly trained, and that employee and public safety be the number one priority over all other considerations.

With regard to our airline members, the UTU is working with others in transportation labor to gain legislation eliminating flight-crew fatigue and to bring flight attendants under protections of OSHA.

As for our bus members, the UTU is working through the AFL-CIO for changes in commercial driver’s license regulations that subject bus operators to loss of their jobs if they receive citations while operating personal automobiles. We also are working to gain legislation requiring improved crash-resistant buses, uniform driver-training standards, and required training in dealing with abusive and threatening passengers.

Finally, member suggestions as to what the UTU should propose in Railway Labor Act Section 6 notices (the first step in revising the national rail contract), have been catalogued and the District 1 Association of General Chairpersons will soon be finalizing them prior to our Section 6 notices being served on the carriers in November.

To keep current on what the UTU is doing on your behalf to protect jobs and improve wages, benefits and working conditions, sign up for e-mail alerts by clicking on the link below:

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