2011: So, where are we headed this year?

January 6, 2011

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

We continue making progress in negotiations to amend the national rail agreement, affecting some 40,000 UTU members employed by BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and many smaller railroads represented by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC).

The national rail contract was opened for amendment in January 2010. The existing agreement remains in force until amendments are concluded under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.

We have held eight formal negotiating sessions with the NCCC. A ninth is scheduled this month. Our objective is to reach a voluntary tentative agreement that recognizes the many and significant contributions our members have made to soaring railroad profitability.

When I took office in January 2008, negotiations in the previous round had stretched aimlessly into their third year. Within 30 days, our new negotiating team reached an agreement with the NCCC that was overwhelmingly ratified by our membership.

Again, this round, our negotiating team is relying on rock-solid research to counter carrier arguments that the recession requires employee give-backs. We have developed financial and economic data on carrier profits and worker productivity to justify our contract demands.

We are utilizing a health care consulting firm to produce hard data on health care costs, and to assist both sides in exploring innovative solutions to slow the spiraling of health care costs.

It is not good enough to say we simply want something, because that list is endless. As our negotiating team did in January 2008, we are utilizing interest-based bargaining — joint problem solving whereby each side understands the needs of the other.

In a collaborative atmosphere, we are negotiating toward a win/win agreement, which requires that both sides attempt solutions not anticipated by either side individually, but achievable jointly through commonality of interests.  

There are other issues high on our 2011 agenda:

We are placing increased emphasis on improving workplace safety and security by expanding the role of the Rail Safety Task Force. This includes working jointly with the carriers to refine and improve provisions of the Rail Safety Improvement Act, as requested by UTU members who participated in the task force’s exhaustive safety survey on workplace concerns. Objectives include the matter of time-off – between yard assignments and at away-from-home terminals.

Of importance to our bus and transit members, we are working collectively with other labor organizations to improve – through regulation and legislation – workplace safety and quality of life.

For our highly trained and skilled airline members, we are working to solve some of unimaginable workplace conditions they endure. We represent pilots and flight attendants who can’t afford basic dental care and who qualify for food stamps.

Education of members is a high priority. We are beefing-up the educational offerings – air, bus and rail – at regional meetings, and building on initiatives of several of our progressive rail locals to provide educational seminars at away-from-home terminals.

Education includes communication, and within a few months we will launch a redesigned, expanded and easier to navigate webpage at www.utu.org.

Cost control at the UTU International — and within the UTUIA — is of great importance, and is being pursued through more efficient and responsive delivery of services to our members and policy holders.

I pledge that we will continue to represent our members with honesty, ferocity, courage, resiliency and adaptability.

The UTU will be recognized universally as representing hardworking men and women who deliver, with integrity and dedication, essential transportation services to the American economy, which remains the envy of the world.