By Mike Futhey,
SMART Transportation Division President –
After a rewarding career of working a combination of 42 years on the railroad and as a union representative, my wife, April, and I look forward to a productive post retirement in Memphis, Tenn. The career journey began on the Georgia St. midnight job in downtown Memphis, June 10, 1971, two days before Mike Sykes, who followed me on the seniority roster the rest of his railroad days.
The associated duties have afforded the opportunity to sit with the most powerful kings of industry, politics and organized labor. I had the honor of representing the motor, our members, that run the economic engine that provides the foundation for the power enjoyed by all those listed.
Our objective has always been the insistence that our members be treated by management with dignity, compensated appropriately, given the opportunity to participate meaningfully, and supplied a safe work environment. We have taken on management and politicians that do not share that same philosophy. We have experienced:
•Improperly dismissed members unjustly vilified before arbitration boards;
•Capricious intimidation of members who were merely complying with federally mandated safety statutes, who as a result, had their livelihoods lost;
•Operational practices that, in our opinion, compromise safety to the detriment of our members;
•And, legislative initiatives intended to provide benefit to the carriers at the expense of our working members.
This is not an indictment of management, politicians, nor the political system. It’s only an observation of real events and of our desire to represent the working men and women of this organization that are treated unjustly. The same men and women that volunteer in their communities, work to make life better for their families and their neighborhoods – men and women whose children, as well as themselves, have served and sacrificed in the military protecting our freedom. They are heroes with stories replete with situations placing themselves in harm’s way to save the lives of public individuals or fellow workers. They live next to you, worship beside you, take time to vote (at a higher percentage than others) and subscribe to the inalienable right to independent thought, but not an independent system to benefit the few.
It is my biased opinion that our members are the “salt of the earth” that dispel the stereotypes associated with “organized labor.” We represent men and women of every race, creed and color, a collection of personalities and backgrounds that break down artificially manufactured barriers constructed to divide and intended to dissuade commonality of interests.
In this business, sometimes our task is daunting, but our unity has delivered beneficial results:
•When the vilified members are exonerated and compensated through the efforts of local and general committee officers;
•When the intimidated members utilize our infrastructure for whistleblower cases and are compensated for lost time and punitive damages, while the carrier is admonished and cited for a statutory violation;
•In the introduction of legislation and statutory safety requirements for minimum crew consist;
•And, through our completely voluntary PAC donations that help elect reasonable, governmental like-minded representatives from both sides of the aisle.
What makes us different? It is the commitment and emotion that wells up within us while we strive to assure our members “a fair shake.” There are those that write about it, but without the workplace experience required of our officers, they only write what they observe, then translate that into statistics.
Critics merely stand on the sideline, lacking institutional knowledge, yet second-guessing the motive, scrutinizing decisions, all the while shirking the responsibility of representing those without a voice.
That responsibility was instilled in me through multiple generations. My great-grandfather was killed organizing railroad workers. He left a 14-year old son, my grandfather, to become head of the household for his mother and his younger brothers. He dedicated his life to union representation, as did my father before me. I can truly say that the support April and I have received, as well as the duties entrusted to me, exceed anything I could have ever envisioned that midnight June 10, 1971, in Memphis. I am truly grateful and humbled. Moreover, I pray God’s blessings upon you, collectively and individually.