UTU LogoUTU locals and state legislative boards in Minnesota and North Dakota are collecting non-perishable foods to aid union brothers and sisters who have been locked out of their jobs in six states by American Crystal Sugar (Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International) and Cooper Tire & Rubber (United Steel Workers).
This Journey for Justice, which involves other labor organizations, follows a December holiday toy drive benefitting children of the locked-out workers.
Beginning with a solidarity rally in Fargo Feb. 22, the Journey for Justice will make stops in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio.
Cooper Tire & Rubber locked out more than 1,000 workers at its Findlay, Ohio, plant just after Thanksgiving, while American Crystal Sugar locked out some 1,300 of its workers at seven facilities more than six months ago, refusing to negotiate.
Journey for Justice leaders are using social media – Twitter and Facebook – to help publicize the effort on behalf of the locked-out workers, which is expected to add to the collection of non-perishable foods for their families.
“These anti-union employers think nothing of treating their workers as nothing more valuable than a used No. 2 pencils, to be discarded at will,” said UTU Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch, who formerly was state legislative director in North Dakota.
Said Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy: “These loyal and productive workers — our union brothers and sisters — have been locked out of their life-long jobs through no fault of their own. As fellow middle-class Americans and trade unionists, their plight is our plight and they need and deserve our help.”

WASHINGTON – It’s now official. Conductor certification, mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, became effective Jan. 1.

In a final rule, published by the Federal Railroad Administration Nov. 9, railroads were ordered to implement, by Jan. 1, a formal training program for certifying conductors and a formal process for training prospective conductors, thus ensuring job competency.

The FRA’s final rule on conductor certification follows many of the provisions of locomotive engineer certification, with a number of improvements the UTU, joined by the BLET, was able to obtain.

Following are highlights of the final rule, which ran almost 300 pages in the Nov. 9 Federal Register.

* While the railroad and its employees must comply with the final rule, there is no limitation on any rights the employee may have under a collective bargaining agreement

* Conductors currently employed will be grandfathered for from one to three years, with one-third of those conductors required to be tested for certification in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Beginning in 2015, one-third of the total conductor workforce will be recertified each year.

* Each railroad, in submitting its proposed certification program to the FRA for approval, must simultaneously submit it to the presidents of the UTU and BLET, which will have 45 days to comment. The intent is to encourage coordination by carriers with local union officers in formulating the certification program, and to gain a supporting statement from the general committee of jurisdiction.

* A conductor losing certification may work as an assistant conductor, brakeman, yard helper, switchman or utility employee, but cannot work as a locomotive engineer. If that individual holds both conductor and engineer certification, and the engineer certification is revoked, they may not work as a conductor.

* If the conductor certificate is revoked because of failing to control a train, violation of train speed, violation of brake test requirement, occupying main track without proper authority, tampering with safety devices, or an alcohol or drug violation, the decertified conductor may not work as a locomotive engineer. However, if the decertification is for violation of a rule covering shoving or pushing movements, or equipment left out to foul track, switches and derails, the decertified conductor may work as a locomotive engineer.
* The conductor must be trained by a qualified person on the territory over which that conductor will operate. If the certified conductor lacks territorial qualification, and has never been qualified on main track physical characteristics, that conductor shall be assisted by a person who is a certified conductor qualified on the territory, and NOT a member of the crew.

* If the conductor has been previously qualified over the main track territory, and the time limits have expired on their qualification, the conductor may be assisted by any knowledgeable person, including a member of the crew, other than the locomotive engineer on the crew, so as not to conflict with other safety sensitive duties.

* If the conductor lacks territorial qualification on other than main track, the conductor, where practical, shall be assisted by a certified conductor meeting the territorial qualifications. Where this is not practical, the conductor shall be provided an appropriate job aid, which includes maps, charts or other visual aids of the territory. This applies to all tracks on each territory.

* Territorial qualification is not required for short movements of one mile or less where track speed is 20-mph or less and movement is required to be at restricted speed, and the track grade is less than 1 percent.
Prior to revoking conductor certification, a railroad must:

* Provide notice of the reason for suspension, and an opportunity for a hearing before a person other than the investigating officer. Written confirmation of the notification shall be in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. Additionally, the hearing shall be in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, but shall be convened within 10 days after the certificate is suspended, unless the conductor asks for a delay.

* Provide, no later than convening the hearing and notwithstanding any collective bargaining agreement, a copy of the written information and a list of the witnesses the railroad intends to present at the hearing. The railroad shall grant a recess if the information is provided just before the hearing. If the information is provided through written statements of an employee, the railroad shall make that employee available for examination during the hearing.

* Not revoke certification or recertification if there is sufficient evidence that an intervening cause prevented or materially impaired the conductor’s ability to comply with requirements.

Additionally, with regard to conductor certification:

* The appeal procedures largely mirror engineer certification regulations.

* The training requirements for new conductors are significantly improved from current requirements. In addition to improved initial training, this rule requires recurrent training for all conductors every three years during the recertification process. The recurrent training must be identified in the certification plan filed with FRA, including changes in operating rules, operating practices, new federal regulations and new equipment in service.

“The implementation of conductor certification enhances the skills and safety performance of freight and passenger conductors, provides a federal license ensuring proper training of conductors, and establishes a new basis for resisting management pressure to violate operating rules and federal regulations,” said UTU International President Mike Futhey.

The final rule is a result of input from all affected parties, including labor, through the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC).

The UTU was represented on this RSAC Conductor Certification Working Group by Local 645 Chairperson Vinnie Tessitore, Local 1470 Chairperson David Brooks, General Chairperson (GO 049) John Lesniewski, Local 528 Legislative Representative Ron Parsons, Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch, National Legislative Director James Stem, and UTU Rail Safety Coordinator for Designated Legal Counsel Larry Mann.

Click here to read the 278-page final rule on conductor certification.

Click here for more information on conductor certification.

A coalition of labor unions and community groups didn’t take back the Wisconsin state senate from anti-union extremists Tuesday night, Aug. 9, but voters enraged over the extremists’ political agenda did unseat two of the six senators targeted for recall.

“Seeing that we were outspent three-to-one, that recall elections are rare in American politics and that our effort to change the face of the Wisconsin legislature only began a few months ago, contributors to the UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund can be proud of the accomplishment of unseating two extremists, and, especially, the message the recall election sent anti-union politicians nationwide,” said UTU Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch.

The Wisconsin recall effort began after political extremists in that state legislature voted to curtail public-employee bargaining rights as a first step toward weakening labor-union power.

An anti-union agenda by political extremists in Ohio similarly energized labor and community groups there, culminating in a successful petition drive that puts the political extremists’ anti-union legislation to a direct voter referendum in Ohio in November.

And in Indiana, political extremists abandoned their effort to curtail public-employee collective bargaining rights after the pushback by labor and community groups began in Wisconsin and Ohio.

In all cases, the UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund played an effective role.

In Madison, Wis., Tuesday, a voter told the Capitol-Times newspaper, “I think the fact that this election is going on right now is a victory in and of itself. We put [the anti-union lawmakers] on the hot seat. I would have liked to have seen us run the table on them, but this is okay for now.”

The UTU’s political consultant, Dean Mitchell, noted that the Wisconsin recall elections are a “test run for organized labor in expanding and improving its get-out-the-vote message and efforts ahead of the 2012 presidential election, where Wisconsin will be one of the swing states. The UTU can be proud that the two senators successfully recalled are from the two voting districts in the state with the most UTU members registered.”

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem said the extremist agenda in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other states to privatize schools and weaken labor unions mirrors the efforts of extremists in Congress to fold Railroad Retirement into Social Security, privatize Social Security and Medicare, eliminate Amtrak and destroy organized labor.

 “The situation in Wisconsin allowed the UTU and other labor organizations to fine-tune our communication strategies,” Stem said. “We are very proud of the manner in which our active and retired members responded to our efforts. The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund and the UTU PAC will continue to spearhead our efforts going forward to protect our collective bargaining rights and defend against these brazen attacks on the middle-class.

“We owe temporary Gov. Scott Walker a debt of gratitude for waking up the middle class to the battle being waged against them,” Stem said. “We will use the lessons learned in the Wisconsin recall to improve our efforts and communications in Ohio and in presidential and congressional elections in 2012.”

WASHINGTON — America learned a tragic lesson a decade ago when armed terrorists gained entry to the flight decks of multiple commercial airliners. The results of 9/11 will live in infamy.

Inexplicably, neither railroads nor the federal government has moved to require the securing of locomotive cab doors and windows to prevent terrorists – whether foreign or domestic – from taking control of a train and wreaking a new calamity on Americans.

A similar security breach is possible at commercial bus terminals, and with commercial motor coaches, where drivers and passengers are vulnerable to armed attacks and hijackings.

That was the message delivered to the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection by UTU Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch July 12.

The FBI warned in 2002 that rail facilities are vulnerable to attacks by terrorists; and following the killing of Osama bin Laden, it was revealed he was planning an attack on railroads. Terrorist attacks already have been carried out on passenger trains in Madrid, Spain, and London, England.

Most chilling is a warning from the Chlorine Institute — that a terrorist-induced release of chlorine from a tank car could create a toxic cloud 40 miles long and 10 miles wide that could kill upwards of 100,000 people in an urban area within 30 minutes. In fact, a limited chlorine release from a tank car following a derailment in rural Graniteville, S.C., in 2005 killed nine and forced the evacuation of thousands.

Securing locomotive cabs is also essential for crew safety. In June 2010 in New Orleans, a conductor was shot to death and an engineer wounded in their locomotive cab during an armed robbery. In 1998, a commuter train was hijacked near Philadelphia; the engineer held at gunpoint.

“We believe it should be a requirement that all locomotives be equipped with locks for the doors and windows to prevent unauthorized entry into the operating compartment,” Risch told the subcommittee, which was seeking advice on how to enhance transportation security.

The UTU also recommends that fencing, video surveillance and security personnel be required for bus terminals, and that protective shields be installed on buses to protect drivers from unruly or deranged passengers.

Proper training of rail operating crews and bus drivers to recognize, respond to and report potential terrorist activities is a high priority of the UTU, Risch told the subcommittee.

“We need to adequately train bus, rail and transit workers across America so they are ready in the event of a terrorist threat or attack,” Risch said. “Properly training frontline workers is vital to surface transportation security, and is a cost-effective way to secure and safeguard our bus, rail and transit systems.

“In the event of an incident or attack, our members are the first on the scene — even before police, fire fighters, and emergency medical responders — and what they do in the first few minutes is crucial to minimizing destruction and loss of life,” Risch said.

The UTU already is working in partnership with Amtrak to develop a training program for on-board employees; and on Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, the UTU is helping to develop a program to train front-line employees on how to recognize, respond to and report potential terrorist activity. Although the UTU has reached out to other freight railroads for partnerships to develop similar safety training programs, railroads are hamstrung due to a lack of federal funding.

“Officials from the Federal Transit Administration and the Transportation Security Administration testified previously before Congress on the need for, and the inherent value of, worker security training,” Risch said. “Yet too little has been done to actually ensure that employees receive adequate security training.”

Although the congressionally passed 9/11 Commission Act mandated that all frontline rail, transit and over-the-road bus employees undergo live training exercises, receive training on evacuation procedures and are instructed on crew and passenger communications and coordination, little has been accomplished, and training mandates are long overdue, Risch said.

“This is unacceptable and further delay only perpetuates the existing dangers,” he said. “Security training should not be a one-time, check-the-box exercise. Regularly scheduled follow-up training is critical.”

Risch also recommended that major rail terminals, where chemicals are stored, be fenced and equipped with video surveillance and security personnel; and that outdated FRA window glazing standards be improved, as current standards protect against only small-arms fire such as a .22 caliber bullet.

“Workers must be treated as partners in the battle to protect our vulnerable bus, rail and public transit systems,” Risch said.

Going to bat for Amtrak and its dedicated work force, UTU Alternate Legislative Director John Risch Jan. 27 outlined for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reasons why an intercity national rail passenger system is essential for Americans and worthy of continued federal funding.

The T&I field hearing was held in New York City’s historic Grand Central Terminal, with T&I Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) in charge. Among those participating with Risch were Amtrak President Joe Boardman and Transportation Communications Union President Bob  Scardelletti.

Mica advocated increased private-sector investment in Amtrak’s 437-mile Northeast Corridor, which operates between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Amtrak Acela trains now provide the highest speed rail in America over the Northeast Corridor (a maximum of 150 mph), but Boardman is pushing for a federally backed effort to implement true high-speed rail on the corridor, with trains capable of speeds up to 220 mph.

Said Mica: “Amtrak’s current plan to bring high speed rail to the Northeast Corridor would require $117 billion, and would not be completed until the year 2040. This slow-speed schedule for bringing true high-speed rail service to the Northeast Corridor will never allow President Obama to meet his goal announced in Tuesday’s State of the Union address that, ‘Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percet of Americans access to high-speed rail.'”

Boardman countered that “Amtrak was created by Congress precisely because the privately owned railroads could no longer sustain the vital public service of intercity passenger rail. No other operator or company is prepared to mobilize to take over the operation of the Northeast Corridor,” Boardman said. “Nor are they funded to cover the long-term capital and operating costs.

“It is critical for the Northeast Corridor to remain a public asset for the generations of Americans that are depending on our collective leadership to secure their future,” Boardman said. “It is about connecting the major metropolitan communities of the Northeast, and also connecting the Northeast to the rest of the United States.

“As a result of Amtrak’s stewardship and improvement of the Northeast Corridor infrastructure, train speeds have increased from 90 mph to 150 mph, America’s only high-speed rail service was introduced, and additional capacity was created to support significantly expanded commuter rail operations,” Boardman said. 

Risch, representing the UTU, made the following points:

  • The government has put nearly 70 times more money into highways and aviation than into railroads.
  • The high cost of fuel, along with traffic and airport congestion, is drawing travelers back to trains for commuting and travel between cities as much as 500 miles apart.
  • A Pew Research poll found that the number of Americans who enjoy driving fell by 10 percentage points over a recent 15 year period — and highway traffic congestion, rather than higher fuel prices — was the reason.
  • The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials predicts that by 2020, some 90 percent of urban Interstate highways will be at or exceeding capacity.
  • Philadelphia officials estimate 50 additional flights daily would be needed to handle Amtrak passengers arriving and departing from that city.
  • Federal transportation officials estimate that without Amtrak service into Manhattan, 20 additional highway lanes, 10 new tunnels under the Hudson River and hundreds of acres of new more parking would be required.
  • Civil engineers estimate that two railroad tracks have the capacity to carry as many people each hour as 16 lanes of highway; and 300 miles of railroad use less land than a single commercial airport.
  • Although Amtrak collects substantial revenue from the fare box, it competes against heavily subsidized highways and commercial aviation, leaving Amtrak insufficient dollars to purchase urgently needed new rolling stock and locomotives, improve facilities and increase service availability.
  • Railroads require less land than new highways and airports, they are less expensive to construct, they are more fuel efficient than highway or air transport, they are environmentally preferable to all competing forms of motorized transportation, and they are notably safer than highway travel.
  • The Department of Transportation’s inspector general said in congressional testimony in 2005:

“Long-distance trains carry only a small number of end-to-end riders. Of the 3.9 million long-distance riders in fiscal year 2004, only 527,000 rode the entire length of the route … three million riders traveled along portions of the route.

“While eliminating long-distance service [a perennial money loser for Amtrak] may seem appealing from a federal budgetary standpoint, especially with the large deficits, it ignores the mobility needs of rural areas of the country and the benefits passenger rail provides.”