Fatigue, harassment, intimidation take toll

June 1, 2010

By International President Mike Futhey

We all know that when one wants the truth from the iron horse’s mouth, we ask the rank-and-file membership.

That is especially so when it comes to safety. I commend our Rail Safety Task Force for going directly to the membership with a survey whose results are reported in the centerfold of the May issue of UTU News, which is mailed to all active members and retirees who are members of the UTU Alumni Association.

Task force members Greg Hynes, Steve Evans, Jerry Gibson and Scott Olson (now retired) put seven questions to members regarding on-duty safety concerns, and received some 1,300 responses.

Many members responded with detailed accounts of their safety concerns, and we will post those responses in their entirety on the UTU Web site within the next few weeks.

What the survey revealed overwhelmingly is that fatigue, harassment and intimidation are affecting how our members do their jobs. All too often, fatigue, harassment and intimidation are distracting members from situational awareness and placing them in harm’s way.

I find it most disturbing that repeated operational testing, harassment and working conditions are cited by almost 75 percent of those responding as creating on-duty distractions.

One member said it best: “We have an increased burden thinking of what will happen to our home and family because of harassment and constant operational testing. It affects everyone when a few easy targets are harassed.”

It is also troubling that almost 95 percent of those responding said they do not feel rested on the job — “sometimes,” “most of the time,” or “always.”

Among train and engine employees, problems are cited with the new 10-hour call rule. It is becoming all too apparent that some carriers are bending the intent of the rule, creating situations where members are unable to have 10 hours of uninterrupted rest immediately prior to being called.

I intend to have direct discussions with carrier CEOs in an effort to ensure every train and engine employee be assured of 10 hours uninterrupted rest immediately prior to being called back to duty.

We also recognize that yard-service employees are affected differently than train and engine service employees — that there is no evidence of fatigue problems when they are provided regular start times and eight hours between shifts, which would allow swing shifts so long as eight hours rest is permitted between those shifts.

As for passenger service, where trains are operated on fixed schedules, we want carriers to work directly with general chairpersons — on property — to solve issues of potential or actual fatigue.

We now have hard evidence to inform carriers that conditions exist that they must deal with and take appropriate action. If this does not bear fruit, we will do what is necessary to protect the safety of our members.

To view the May centerfold, click here.