Our might starts with our members

October 27, 2009

By UTU Assistant President Arty Martin

Early in our lives, we learn that success — whether it be graduation, being selected for a church choir, earning a spot on a sports team, or being hired to drive a bus, fly a plane or switch rail cars — requires preparation, following rules, and attention to the job.

Our union is structured to assure each of us the opportunity and right to guide our future under our collective bargaining agreements. Our responsibility is to understand our agreements, and learn to document carrier violations.

This is because we cannot expect the local chairperson, general chairperson or an International officer to know everything that is happening on a daily basis at each location.

Local officers, upon learning of your problems, have the responsibility to inform the general chairperson and/or state legislative director (the latter where safety issues are concerned). These officers then have the option, if necessary, of seeking assistance from the International.

The UTU constitution is very strong in preserving the autonomy of each local, with succeeding levels (general committees, state legislative boards and the International) prepared to assist in ensuring you obtain proper pay, benefits and working conditions as provided by your agreements.

At the International, we have one of the strongest and most successful law departments among labor organizations. History shows that the UTU does not hesitate to go to the court house on your behalf to enforce agreements.

We also work to build coalitions with other labor organizations, and often through the AFL-CIO, which carries the banner for almost 12 million working families.

The UTU’s membership in AFL-CIO — along with the UTU PAC — is a powerful tool for electing a labor-friendly candidates and influencing the passage of labor-friendly laws. I take pride that UTU International President Mike Futhey was just elected a vice president of the AFL-CIO, and named to its ruling Executive Committee.

I am reminded of the famous Norman Rockwell paintings of four basic freedoms: Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

These freedoms are the soul of union brotherhood and sisterhood, as working men and women from diverse backgrounds and cultures come together to fight for individual and collective respect and workplace rights.

I also recall reading a famous speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which he proposed a Second Bill of Rights to guarantee a job with a living wage, freedom from unfair competition and monopolies, a home, medical care, education and recreation.

Much progress has been made, but more must be achieved. Together, through preparation and hard work, we must continue — with fire in the belly — the fight for what is right.

At the local level, members have the responsibility to fight for these rights also, beginning with identifying and properly documenting situations that hinder our very basic rights to a safe workplace, free of intimidation and harassment.