August 29, 2014

Arty Martin: “We will protect you”

PORTLAND, Ore. — Reflecting on violence against air, bus and rail members, UTU International Assistant President Arty Martin told attendees at the union’s regional meeting here June 20 that protecting the working conditions and safety of members is among the highest of UTU objectives.

“Our jobs are notoriously dangerous and we are going to insist that local, state and federal legislators and regulators help the UTU lead the way in imposing adequate protections for transportation workers,” Martin said. “We have long spoken to carriers about improving on-duty safety and training for their front-line employees, but they ignore us. So, now we will work legislatively to gain the protections our members deserve while serving the public.”

Just recently, a UTU member — Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus operator Alan Thomas — was murdered aboard his bus by a passenger, and there have been instances of armed thugs robbing freight train crews while trains were awaiting clearance onto or off main lines. And daily, UTU-member flight attendants, bus operators and passenger-rail conductors are subject to threats and abuse by passengers. On June 19 in Minneapolis, a passenger threatened with a knife a Northstar commuter rail conductor.

The UTU has already achieved two notable worker-safety mandates:

* The Federal Railroad Administration earlier this year published a final rule requiring that all new and remanufactured locomotives in road and yard service be equipped with a secure cab lock, and that climate control assure tolerable temperatures inside the cab when it is secure.

* The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has imposed significant monetary sanctions against numerous railroads for retaliating against employees who report on-duty injuries and seek medical treatment.

Additionally, the UTU is completing – with help from a federal grant — development of a training manual for front-line Amtrak employees that helps them recognize and react to potential terrorism threats and passenger abuses. Martin said new applications for federal grants to expand the program to airlines, bus lines, commuter and freight railroads is in progress.

Also, the UTU National Legislative Office is working with the UTU Bus Department to gain new mandates on minimum training and operator safety from Congress, state legislatures and localities.

“We will be ramping up these efforts, developing an accelerated legislative strategy to advance member safety and minimum training politically,” Martin said. “Our objective is the best trained and safest work force in America.”

Martin spoke on other issues important to the UTU membership:

* The UTU has sought from the National Mediation Board a release from mediation for UTU Local 40 pilots employed by Great Lakes Airlines who have been in fruitless wage, benefits and working-conditions negotiations with the carrier for almost 55 months.

* UTU finances are solid, Martin said. “Rather than rumors five years ago that we were on the verge of closing our doors within 20 days, this administration has used constant monitoring of expenditures to put the UTU on a stable financial footing.”

* The UTU Insurance Association continues to grow its policy holders and remains strong financially. “When you purchase policies from your UTU Insurance Association you are not supporting insurance companies that go to state houses and Capitol Hill to lobby against collective bargaining and your job security,” Martin said.

* The UTU’s Discipline Income Protection Plan, which had been on the verge of bankruptcy when the Futhey administration took office in January 2008, “has a bottom line more solid than at any time in the past decade,” Martin said. “Our DIPP looks for ways to pay claims and not ways to keep you from collecting claims as other plans do.”

* The national rail contract negotiated by the UTU is in stark contrast to the previous round of bargaining, under a different administration, where the UTU did not take the lead. “During the previous round, we weren’t leaders and we saw health care insurance premiums rise from $100 monthly to $200,” Martin said. “The Futhey administration took the lead in negotiations this round and won a cap at the same $200 rate through June 20, 2016,” even though health care costs have been soaring and most others in government and the private sector pay upwards of $400 monthly for less comprehensive coverage.

Martin urged attendees to “take the lessons and experiences you gained in regional meeting workshops back to your members. Tell them what this union is all about, how it is the backbone of America’s middle class, how strong we are and how the UTU has led the way and will continue to lead the way,” Martin said.