By International President Mike Futhey

Remember back in grade school, when we were given a page with four pictures on it — a dog, a cat, a horse and an apple — and told to identify which one of the four didn’t belong?

Imagine, instead, a page with these four pictures: a paycheck, a health-care insurance card, a union contract, and John McCain. Why doesn’t McCain belong in that series of photos?

  • McCain said in his presidential nomination acceptance speech that he would take his war on unions to the White House.
  • McCain calls labor unions “class warfare.”
  • McCain opposes “Buy America” provisions in legislation.
  • McCain voted in the Senate to gut rail and transit collective bargaining rights.
  • McCain voted against federal funding for mass transit.
  • McCain supports privatization of Social Security and Railroad Retirement, which means turning our retirement security over to Wall Street financiers — the same folks who have made such a mess of our economy.
  • McCain is in favor of opening the U.S. border to Mexican-operated buses and locomotives.
  • McCain supports dismantling of Medicare.
  • McCain represents the same Bush administration anti-union bias that has resulted in appointments of anti-union federal judges, regulators and arbitrators who, in word and deed, view labor unions as an evil to be eradicated.

Contrast the anti-union John McCain with the pro-labor Barack Obama.

  • Obama has a 100 percent UTU voting record.
  • Obama has pledged in writing to protect Railroad Retirement, Social Security and Medicare.
  • Obama consistently has supported public funding for mass transit and Amtrak.
  • Obama has spoken out in support of the UTU position on the commercial driver’s license problem facing bus operators.
  • Obama understands that this election is about Main Street vs. Wall Street, and Sen. Obama stands solidly on the side of Main Street.
  • Obama understands, as did Franklin Roosevelt, that antilabor policies are not the spirit by which our nation was founded, and that cheap wages mean low buying power, and low buying power means low standards of living.

As Mike Owens, a Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen general chairperson says, “We can’t keep complaining about agreements that are lousy and continue to vote for people who stick it to us.”

Transportation trades workers in Illinois, who have known Barack Obama for two decades, beginning with his election to the Illinois state senate, are so impressed with his voting record and support for organized labor and working families that they made a video in support of Obama.

The video may be viewed at by clicking on the Obama photo and scrolling to “Video: Obama in their own words.”

Barack Obama, through his Illinois state senate and U.S. Senate voting records, has earned the respect of working families in America.

In these difficult economic times for all working families, I urge you to join with me and go to the polls on Election Day and cast a ballot for the candidate who will put working families first – Barack Obama.

Brothers and Sisters:

We know our rail members employed by BNSF, CSX, KCS, NS and UP are anxious about the status of talks with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC).

The talks resume Jan. 22 in Jacksonville, Fla.

It has been a year since the UTU and the NCCC held negotiations; and, in the interim, other organizations did reach a new agreement with the carriers.

Our talks stalled, in part, over the matter of entry-level pay tied to training (which was the subject of a side-letter in the previous round of negotiations).

The talks are under the control of the National Mediation Board, and this session in Jacksonville will be the first with President Futhey leading the negotiating team.

There are some changes in the negotiating team owing to retirements and election-related departures. Assistant President Martin has been added to the team, having been on the team that negotiated in two previous rounds.

We do not anticipate we will be returning to square one with the carriers, as there was progress in previous sessions even though a tentative agreement was not forged.

We can say this in advance of the Jan. 22 resumption of negotiations: The UTU negotiating team will encourage a new and progressive attitude by both sides.

As you know, successful negotiations cannot and do not occur in public, but every UTU member affected should be assured that the UTU negotiating team recognizes the issues near and dear to our members, and your negotiating team intends to forge a tentative agreement that can and will be ratified by the membership.

We will provide an update on progress as soon as we are able.

Meanwhile, we have made significant progress in updating International vice president assignments, with the majority of requests for assistance from general committees — some extending back to mid-October — having been made.

Also, assignments for UTU representation on various FRA safety-related committees, as well as National Transportation Safety Board incident and accident committees, are in the process of being updated.

During the past week in Cleveland, we met with the dedicated and loyal International headquarters staff and assured them that this administration is sensitive to their concerns as we embrace change. We emphasized that we are all members of working families, and that working families survive and prosper by standing together and working together.

Additionally, we are working with staff of the UTUIA to ensure that the insurance needs and concerns of active and retired UTUIA policy holders are serviced properly and in a timely manner.

Another area receiving our attention is the Discipline Income Protection Plan (DIPP). The carriers have been accelerating the imposition of discipline and dismissal of UTU members. While we have made some changes to ensure the continuation of the DIPP, the accelerated discipline and dismissal of employees by the carriers requires a complete review of the DIPP.

It is essential to emphasize that while other job benefit plans are looking for ways to AVOID paying claims, the UTU’s DIPP has remained steadfast in looking for ways to pay claims of participants. We intend to shore up this plan and continue to provide the peace of mind expected by members and their families who participate in the DIPP.

With regard to the SMART merger, recall it is on hold through a federal-court temporary restraining order. A status telephone conference call with the judge, involving all parties to the case, is scheduled for Feb. 1, and a court-hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8 and 9. We shall be reporting more on this issue as events warrant.

Finally, we have scheduled a meeting with all International officers, general chairpersons and state legislative directors in New Orleans for the end of January.

On Jan. 29, which is a meeting for International officers only, we shall fulfill a campaign promise to provide training and education in available computer software related to their jobs, as well as work-related resources available to them.

On Jan. 30, International officers, general chairpersons and state legislative directors will be provided a review of the union’s financial condition. Also, at the Jan. 30 meeting, there will be a discussion of various issues facing the International, its officers and membership.

General chairpersons and state legislative directors should attend the Jan. 30 meeting only.

In solidarity,

Mike Futhey, International President

Arty Martin, Assistant President

Kim Thompson, General Secretary & Treasurer

Brothers and Sisters:

This is another in a series of what will be many leadership messages to our membership.

Our first week in office involved:

  • Familiarizing ourselves with the day-to-day operation of the International;
  • Assessing the financial condition of the UTU and the UTUIA;
  • Reviewing activities of the past few months that affect our union going forward;
  • Assessing the needs of general committees;
  • Assigning projects to International officers based on priorities and specific skills; and,
  • Working feverishly to assure that our cherished craft autonomy is not sacrificed through what has been revealed as a too-hastily concluded merger agreement.

We are also preparing to meet with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee Jan. 22 for the first national contract negotiations held in more than a year.

As you are aware, we have five new International vice presidents. Also, there have been abolished four U.S. International vice president positions, and two in Canada, which constitutes a significant cost savings for our union.

This major transition required a thorough review of assignments, which we are in the process of completing. Within the next few days, all current International officers will have been given their new assignments.

We are also working with the National Mediation Board to jump-start grievance handling at that level following a lengthy delay owing to a congressional budget deadlock that required the NMB to halt all travel for neutrals.

Another area of concern is passenger railroads, including Amtrak and commuter carriers. As you are aware, a Presidential Emergency Board made non-binding recommendations this month in an effort to settle a collective bargaining impasse between Amtrak and eight of its unions. The UTU is not one of those unions.

The UTU has been in difficult negotiations with Amtrak since August 2000, on behalf of some 2,600 Amtrak conductors, assistant conductors and yardmasters.

A significant sticking point in our negotiations is Amtrak’s demand that management have an unrestricted right to determine the staffing level of passenger trains, which could mean the elimination of many assistant conductor positions.

We have been resolute in our insistence that the assistant conductor is absolutely essential for passenger safety and security — especially in this post-9/11 environment. To this end, the U.S. Department of Transportation, at the direction of Congress, has commenced a study on that issue and we are confident our position will be validated by the federal government.

In the meantime, we continue our effort to gain for our Amtrak-employed members an equitable agreement on wages, benefits and working conditions, which includes the back pay already recommended by the PEB for the other organizations. On Amtrak, we are also mindful of actions by management to eliminate many yardmaster positions.

The federal study into the safety and security-related roles of Amtrak conductors and assistant conductors could also provide protection for UTU-represented assistant conductors employed in commuter operations.

We are reminding our negotiators of a conclusion by a special Presidential Railroad Commission — created by President Kennedy in 1962 — that, “In this [railroad] industry, whatever may be said of others, the employees have a legitimate collective bargaining interest in the matter of crew consist, and it is our view that the collective bargaining process should remain the basic method for resolving disputes concerning this matter.”

As gasoline prices skyrocket, air travel becomes more problematic and the population ages, Americans are voting increasingly with the feet and wallets to ride Amtrak and the various commuter rail systems nationwide. The growing demand for high-speed regional rail and expanded commuter rail also provides new opportunity for organizing the unorganized.

The UTU also will work with Amtrak and commuter railroads to ensure freight railroads do not discriminate against passenger operations by denying them the priority dispatch access to which they are entitled. We will also lobby at the state and congressional level for sufficient public funding for new and expanded commuter and transit services.

Another subject we are investigating is the appointment last July of a sitting UTU president to the advisory board of the American Income Life Insurance Co., which competes with our own UTUIA. That appointment may have constituted a conflict of interest with his position as a director and chief executive officer of the UTUIA, and we will report to you on the results of that investigation. We stress that this is not a matter of “going after” a former officer, but a matter of protecting UTUIA.

We also are following the unfortunate demise and pending liquidation of Big Sky Airlines. Protection of our members employed by Big Sky is our number one priority, and the UTU law department is researching all options to ensure the letter of the law and collective bargaining agreements are followed.

Bus operators and mechanics represented by the UTU also are important to us, and we will devote what ever resources are required to assist our bus locals in negotiating equitable contracts, and to organize unorganized properties.

We also pledge to continue efforts before Congress to right the wrong of prior federal legislation that puts each commercial driver’s license at risk for even minor traffic violations when operating a private automobile. We also are working with Congress to gain additional federal funding for training of bus operators, and means of increasing the physical protection of drivers from assaults by passengers.

Additionally, we are seeing an increase in demand for bus travel — local and intercity — throughout the nation as the price of gasoline soars. This is especially so in rural and low population areas without air service. The UTU will be encouraging communities and states to devote additional tax revenue to enhancing local and intercity bus service, which also will create new organizing opportunities for the UTU.

Clearly, we have a lot on our plates. Our union is especially fortunate to have highly skilled, loyal and determined officers and staff at the International, general committee and local levels, as well as in state legislative and provincial board offices, whose advice and assistance is crucial to providing second-to-none service to all our members.

In solidarity,

Mike Futhey, International President

Arty Martin, Assistant President

Kim Thompson, General Secretary & Treasurer 

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

In spite of a federal court ruling Dec. 27 that UTU members were provided insufficient — and even misleading — information regarding the proposed merger with the Sheet Metal Workers’ union, seven current members of the UTU Board of Directors demanded in a letter to me Jan. 3 that I nonetheless support the merger and instruct the UTU Law Department to seek to overturn the court’s ruling.

In fact, the court’s ruling was supported by declarations from a majority of the previous board of directors who had voted to put the merger to a membership vote.

Now, seven current board members support the shotgun wedding of the UTU with the SMWIA that was boxed in secrecy and wrapped in a deception that would disenfranchise the craft and general-committee autonomy so cherished by our members.

The members of the Board of Directors who signed this demand are: John Babler, Vic Baffoni, Roy Boling, James Brunkenhoefer, J.R. Cumby, John Fitzgerald and Tony Iannone.

I was elected to protect our union’s cherished craft autonomy and this administration will not retreat from its obligations to the membership.

Assistant President Arty Martin, General Secretary and Treasurer Kim Thompson and I support providing the membership with full disclosure before asking them to vote on something so crucial to the future of this union, their careers and their families.

We ask Brothers Babler, Baffoni, Boling, Brunkenhoefer, Cumby, Fitzgerald and Iannone to explain why they don’t want to provide the membership with full and honest disclosure before seeking a vote on a merger with another organization.

Each of them committed in recent weeks that they were putting politics behind them and would work with this administration for the benefit of the entire union.

What, other than politics, would cause them to take the position they have taken? Indeed, in the face of indisputable evidence — validated by a federal court — that the membership did not have sufficient and factual information on which to vote, these seven brothers want that vote to stand.

Rumors are being circulated that unless we merge now — and under the recently disclosed and previously hidden terms that would disenfranchise our craft autonomy — the union is in danger of financial collapse. That is not true.

Former International President Paul Thompson said emphatically at our regional meetings in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and our convention in Hollywood, Fla., that the union is “debt free.”

In fact, convention cost controls left us with a $1-million surplus from the convention. Moreover, the reduction of International vice president positions will save an additional $1 million annually, the $2 dues increase initiated by Paul Thompson will add another $1.5 million annually, and other cost controls being instituted will further improve our financial strength. Contrary to misinformation, this union is solvent and does not require a shotgun wedding to survive.

Meanwhile, the federal district court in Akron, Ohio, has extended until Feb. 8 the temporary restraining order halting implementation of the merger with the SMWIA creating SMART.

The 30-day extension was agreed to by parties so that we might explore all possibilities of resolution consistent with the interests of our members. I intend to use this period to clear up the lack of information and misinformation that previously was provided our membership.

Following is the form letter that was submitted to me separately by each of the seven brothers: John Babler, Vic Baffoni, Roy Boling, James Brunkenhoefer, J.R. Cumby, John Fitzgerald and Tony Iannone:

January 3, 2008

Mr. M. B. Futhey, United Transportation Union

14600 Detroit Avenue

Cleveland, OH 44107

Reference: UTU/SMWIA Merger

Dear Sir and Brother,

I understand that the UTU Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the merger of United Transportation Union (UTU) and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA). I also understand that on January 4, 2008, UTU will be represented in court in Akron, OH regarding a restraining order to permanently prevent the merger of the aforementioned Unions as outlined in the Merger Agreement between the parties.

As a member of the current UTU Board of Directors, I request that UTU’s legal position at the hearing support the merger of UTU and SMWIA as mandated by the Board of Directors and membership via their recent ratification vote. Furthermore, I request that any change(s), internal, legal or otherwise, regarding the merger of the UTU with SMWIA must have the concurrence of the UTU Board of Directors as set forth in the UTU Constitution. As a member of the UTU Board of Directors I so hold.