Luther Peyton “Pate” King Jr., who served the SMART Transportation Division on the local, state and national levels for more than three decades, passed away Friday, March 22, 2024, at age 80.

Brother “Pate” King served as an officer, including stints as a general chairperson and an alternate vice president for the SMART-TD’s predecessor union, the UTU, for the better part of four decades.

Brother King joined our union as a member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen on Jan. 1, 1968. Just one year later, he became a local officer, being elected as secretary & treasurer of Local 1172 in Mullens, W. Va. He served as a convention delegate from 1975 to 2014 before his retirement on Halloween 2014.

“The passing of Brother King is weighing hard on his former committee GO 680,” wrote General Chairperson David Phillips. “However, as we reflect on his time of 37 years as general chairman and 50-year railroad career, we celebrate his contributions.”

Brother King was signatory to two crew-consist agreements in 1984 and 1991, served twice as a representative on the union’s national railroad negotiating team and countless on-property memorandum agreements.

And while his negotiating skills were highly regarded, even those paled to his incomparable ability to argue before a Public Law Board.

“He was so good that an engineer who was charged with a stop-signal violation and was a member of another organization said if Pate would represent him, he would change his membership to the UTU — now SMART-TD,” Phillips said. “Brother King took the NEW member’s claim to a PLB and won the case with back pay and the member remained a SMART-TD member for the rest of his career.”

Phillips and retired former Vice President Doyle Turner both were present when Brother King unleashed his uncanny ability to make an argument from his memory the likes they had never seen.

“At Pate’s last PLB, we witnessed him go paperless and win what seemed unwinnable cases,” Phillips said. “In fact, in one case on a rebuttal after the carrier’s argument, Brother King said there was one word to sum up the carrier’s argument — ‘bulls—.’ “

Phillips said he and Turner then watched King give a 10-minute rebuttal without notes or even a pen and paper that eventually prevailed with the arbitrator returning the employee back to work.

Officers contemporary to Brother King described him as an exemplary credit to the union.

“A real warrior has found rest,” retired former UTU President Mike Futhey said.

“His knowledge and understanding of union matters and dealing with carrier were unmatched,” said former Vice President Delbert Strunk, who served with Brother King for 30 years as a union officer.

“He might have been small in frame, but was a giant among men,” said retired Vice President Troy Johnson. “Everyone respected him, especially me.”

GC Phillips said that Brother Pate King’s legacy of service to the members will endure in his general committee.

“To Brother King’s wife and family, our prayers and thoughts are with you, and we are so sorry for your loss,” GC Phillips wrote. “Remember that the impact of Pate will for generations be felt for rail labor of which Pate dedicated his life to as we all well know.”

A service is scheduled April 16 at The First Presbyterian Church of Mullens, 1024 Howard Ave. Visitation is scheduled from 1-2 p.m. with services following. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Hospice of Southern West Virginia, P.O. Box 1472, Beckley, WV 25802-1472 or to The First Presbyterian Church of Mullens.

“I would encourage that ALL SMART-TD officers and members to make every effort to attend Brother King’s memorial service,” Phillips said. “A strong showing will show the family of Brother King our appreciation of having an officer and member the caliber of Brother King.”

Phillips expressed his appreciation to Local 1172’s Mark Workman for his outreach to the family in this time of loss.

The SMART Transportation Division expresses its sincere condolences to Brother King’s family and friends. His contributions to the union will not be forgotten.

Read the family’s obituary.

On June 2, 2023, SMART Transportation Division members represented by General Committees of Adjustment GO-898, GO-687 and GO-680, have voted to ratify their tentative agreement with Norfolk Southern and will benefit from increased wages, as well as improvements to their quality of life.

Eligible members participating in the vote approved the new contract with approximately 60% in favor of ratification.

The ratified contract provides for:

  • Additional time off and scheduled rest days;
  • 5 paid sick days with the option to convert up to 2 personal leave days to on-demand sick days;
  • Unused personal leave days can now be carried over and accumulated indefinitely, with no limitations;
  • More predictable scheduling process to use paid leave and vacation days;
  • Compensation increases beyond those already provided for via national bargaining, with shift differential pay for weekend assignments;
  • Continuous detention/held-away pay beginning after 15 hours, paid continuously until the on-duty time at the away-from-home terminal;
  • Increased away-from-home terminal meal allowances;
  • More predictable work and flexibility in time off.

General Chairpersons Tommy Gholson (GO-898), Jim Ball (GO-687), David Phillips (GO-680), Assistant General Chairpersons Andrew Evans (GO-680), Jason Roberts (GO-898) and Brian Sharkey (GO-687), along with SMART-TD Vice President Brent Leonard, negotiated the now-ratified agreement.

Following the tabulation of votes on June 2nd, General Chairperson Ball said, “This is a proud day for all of us who were involved in getting this agreement hammered out. We got our brothers and sisters more compensation, better schedules, and the dignity that comes with having paid sick days so we can take care of our families and not get our coworkers sick in the meantime.”

General Chairperson Gholson said, “These changes have been a long time coming. Our members have been screaming especially for the quality-of-life upgrades that came with this agreement, but in this industry, those improvements have to be fought for. Nothing is given. We knew that going in, and with the help of Vice President Leonard, we got our members a great deal. We want everyone involved to know that we addressed every issue we set out to address and a little more, but the fight is far from over. We have momentum, and we aren’t done advocating for the front-line workers of Norfolk Southern.”

For his part in this win, GC David Phillips said, “This agreement is historic not only for what it brings to the table for the train service crafts, but it also raised the bar to the degree that engineers will see the quality-of-life enhancements negotiated by SMART-TD. The language we worked on for five months set a pattern and a high bar that required the carrier to extend those enhancements
to other crafts. As such, every member of our crew rooms are able to benefit from the fortitude of SMART-TD.

“I have worked as a SMART engineer, and speaking as a SMART engineer, it is very satisfying to see the hard work of SMART benefit those of us working in the Enginemen craft.”

Vice President Leonard was quick to recognize the hard work, professionalism, and experience that the NS general chairpersons brought to the bargaining table was the key to the success of this agreement. He said, “I want to start by congratulating the SMART-TD members of Norfolk Southern on the significant pay raises and quality of life improvements they just obtained. General Chairpersons Phillips, Gholson, and Ball deserve ample recognition for their dedication to hammering out this historic agreement. This is a big win for those General Committees and the members they represent.”

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson’s reaction to the ratification announcement was, “The rail industry has always been built on the backs of conductors and trainmen. Our NS members and their elected representatives have stood up for themselves and demanded to be compensated both financially and with lifestyle improvements that are more in line with the importance of the work they do. I am excited to see these well-earned victories with sick days and schedule flexibility, and I am hopeful that this win for our NS brothers and sisters leads the way towards similar improvements across the industry.”