April 19, 2014

Workplace safety: Our highest priority

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

What should have been a joyous holiday season ended all too tragically Dec. 29 with the death of 44-year-old UTU Local 1000 member Samuel Lundy in a switching accident in Minneapolis. He leaves behind a loving wife and three children.

Brother Lundy was the eighth UTU member killed in the line of duty during 2009. We grieve for each of them, and I am inspired by the somber words of Local 1000 President John Haggarty, who observed — and this applies to each of our fallen brothers — “If this could have happened to him, it could happen to any of us.”

Railroaders work in one of the most — if not the most — dangerous industries in America, where accidents, rather than resulting in sprains and broken bones, too often result in career-ending injuries and death.

Death and dismemberment stalk operating crews every moment of their working hours, and there is no greater priority — none! — than returning home to our families in one piece.

Worker safety is the number-one priority of every labor union, and the UTU works closely with every labor organization in this effort. There is no stronger bond among labor organizations, and the working men and women in America, than the joint objective of improving workplace safety.

Within the UTU, we have three separate safety initiatives in place. This is in addition to our efforts at the negotiating table; our joint initiatives with other labor organizations; our communications and meetings with federal regulatory agencies, Congress and state legislatures; and our Designated Legal Counsel program.

Progress is being made, but we cannot, should not, and will not retreat from this fight. It is the most vital duty we owe our membership.

Our most recent safety initiative was the creation, earlier this year, of the UTU Rail Safety Task Force, whose mission is to identify and communicate best practices and techniques to improve situational awareness and keep situational awareness at its highest level.

Additionally, the UTU participates with other labor organizations and rail management in the Federal Railroad Administration sponsored Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group, whose mission is to develop recommendations for reducing fatalities in switching operations. The SOFA group has developed best practices for yard workers to help ensure their safety.

The UTU also has a 13-member Transportation Safety Team that assists National Transportation Safety Board investigators in on-the-scene determination of facts in rail-related accidents. Members of this team are selected based on their knowledge of operating rules and understanding of general railroad operations, train movements and dispatching. Team members also receive special training in NTSB procedures. A team member was on the scene within hours of Brother Lundy’s death to assist the NTSB in its investigation.

In Washington, the UTU National Legislative Office spends a considerable portion of each workday in meetings with FRA, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration and Federal Aviation Administration safety officials; the NTSB; other labor organizations, academics, and key congressional staff discussing and pushing for improved workplace safety improvements.

Our state legislative directors similarly are involved, on a daily basis, in investigating member concerns and working with state officials and lawmakers on workplace safety issues. These efforts include gaining state regulations requiring safer walkways alongside yard tracks, improved sanitation and crew facilities, and protecting bus operators from unruly passengers.

Within hours of Brother Lundy’s fatal accident, Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy called on “all railroad management teams voluntarily to clear our walkways of snow and ice, to rebuild and maintain the walkways at yard, industry, and mainline alike, and help us advance safety and service in this industry.”

Finally, our Designated Legal Counsel are an essential component of our workplace safety efforts. These attorneys are uniquely qualified in bringing civil actions against railroads under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), which is one of the best friends railroaders have in pressuring railroads to improve workplace safety.

Please visit the various safety-related pages on the UTU Web site to keep informed and stay up to date on best practices designed to bring you home safely to your family.

And when you do spot a workplace safety problem, immediately inform the carrier, and also inform your local legislative representative and your state legislative director at your earliest opportunity, providing as many facts as you are able regarding location and the nature of the safety problem.

I pledge to each of you that workplace safety will remain the UTU’s single highest priority.