njtransit2We are pleased to announce that SMART TD members on New Jersey Transit have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement.

Steve Burkert, SMART TD general chairperson; and Doyle Turner, SMART TD vice president; led the fight for a fair and equitable agreement while withstanding the unreasonable demands of NJT. After two Presidential Emergency Boards and numerous negotiating sessions, the SMART TD negotiating team reached an agreement that was overwhelmingly ratified by our members on NJT.

SMART TD President John Previsich said: “I want to commend General Chairperson Steve Burkert, SMART TD Vice President Doyle Turner, Alternate Vice President Anthony Simon and all of the members of the negotiating team for their efforts in bringing this round of negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion. The negotiating team, led by GC Burkert, was instrumental in carrying the wishes of our NJT members to the negotiating table and it is through their efforts that we were able to reach an agreement that was ratified by an overwhelming majority vote. It’s been a long battle for the New Jersey Transit members and now they will receive the wages and benefits to which they are entitled. This is a tremendous victory for NJT SMART TD members, and for our union brothers and sisters across the country.”

General Chairperson Burkert said: “It’s been a long, drawn-out process and I’m thrilled for my members and their families that we were successful in reaching an agreement that provides for financial stability going forward, especially during this very tough political time. I want to express my appreciation to the entire membership for their solidarity and support through this very difficult round of negotiations.”

After more than two years of negotiations, three UTU-SMART general committees representing some 2,300 Amtrak members have reached a deal with the passenger carrier on a new contract.

Amtrak LogoGeneral Chairpersons Bill Beebe, Robert Keeley and Dirk Sampson represent Amtrak conductors, assistant conductors, yardmasters and dining car stewards.

The parties first began negotiations in 2010 and were initially unable to resolve their differences on the terms and conditions of a new contract. After a number of sessions, the services of the National Mediation Board were requested and a Federal mediator was assigned.

UTU-SMART Assistant President John Previsich, who assisted in the negotiations, said that, although the progress remained slow and difficult, the mediator was ultimately successful in moving the parties forward to a satisfactory conclusion.

The tentative agreements must now be ratified by affected members under provisions of the UTU (SMART Transportation Division) Constitution. Ballots are going out by mail and the tentative deadline for the return of ballots is April 10.

The proposed agreements follow the pattern of pay increases and health & welfare modifications reached by other organizations in earlier settlements. The increases are effective beginning back to 2010 and, as a result, employees covered by the new agreements will receive a significant amount of back pay once the contract is ratified, Previsich said.

“In addition, the parties were successful in resolving the difficult issue of financial recognition for the increased obligations and rule modifications that are required by Federal certification of conductors,” Previsich said.

General Chairpersons Beebe, Keeley and Sampson thanked Previsich for his assistance during the negotiations and also pointed to the valuable contributions and perseverance of Vice General Chairpersons Gary Hopson, Charlie Yura and Charles Fowler.

“I commend Chairpersons Keeley, Sampson and Beebe for the professionalism and dedication to the membership exhibited during this very difficult round of negotiations,” Previsich said. “Their commitment, along with the knowledge and contributions of the vice general chairpersons, resulted in tentative agreements that stand as testimony to the value of working together for the benefit of the men and women who we represent.”

Amtrak LogoContract talks on Amtrak are continuing, General Chairperson Dirk Sampson reports. 

“As these negotiations are ongoing and sensitive, I am not a liberty to release the details,” he said. 

“My main priority with Amtrak is getting this contract settled,” Sampson said. “Mediation talks are ongoing. Currently, mediation sessions are scheduled for Feb. 13 and 14 and March 20 and 21. We are still trying to resolve a few difficult issues. The negotiation team will continue to press its demands with the assistance and guidance of Assistant President John Previsich.”




John Previsich
By International Vice President John Previsich

Collective bargaining with Amtrak over revisions to the current wages, benefits and work rules agreement continues.

This report to the membership follows a briefing we provided the general committee during its recent quadrennial meeting.

Railway Labor Act Section 6 notices were exchanged with Amtrak in January 2010, and numerous bargaining sessions have been held since, with Amtrak General Chairpersons Roger Lenfest and Bill Beebe leading the UTU negotiators. I am serving as an adviser.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for mid-June.

Discussed at the most recent bargaining session in Philadelphia were improvements to the rates of pay, rules and working conditions, including conductor certification pay and an improved away-from-home meals allowance.

Given that Congress recently slashed federal assistance payments to Amtrak — and Amtrak is responding with an attempt to cut all its costs across the board — the negotiations are especially difficult.

In the face of these challenges, our negotiating team is working closely with the UTU’s financial and health care experts and the UTU National Legislative Office to ensure we are fully armed with concrete facts and data to support the items in our Section 6 notice.

At the most recent negotiating session, Amtrak restated its position that funds are not available for any costs beyond those already contemplated in its earlier proposal to the UTU. Amtrak says that given the difficult economic times, it isn’t possible to improve their initial offer.

In response, our UTU negotiating team advised Amtrak that their proposal is not acceptable — that it is “bare bones” and does not address many of the issues of concern to UTU members.

We told Amtrak that items in our Section 6 notice come directly from the membership as a result of membership outreach efforts by general chairpersons Beebe and Lenfest, and that each and every item requires good faith consideration during the negotiating process.

We continue to utilize an interest-based bargaining approach that takes into account the needs of both parties when crafting a final settlement. Interest-based bargaining historically has proven very effective in obtaining a satisfactory resolution, oftentimes producing results that are more favorable than those that can be obtained from a traditional demand-based negotiating process.

However, for the interest-based process to be successful, both parties must be fully committed to considering the needs and desires of each participating group. We maintain that a “take it or leave it” offer by Amtrak flies in the face of interest-based bargaining — and we have made that clear to Amtrak.

Amtrak responded that it will come to the next bargaining session in mid-June fully prepared to discuss the items set forth in our Section 6 notice.

While the UTU will continue to employ an interest-based strategy in negotiations, our negotiating team is fully prepared to move forward with a more traditional style of negotiations if at any time it appears that would be a more productive route.

The objective of the UTU negotiating team remains obtaining the best possible agreement for our members during these challenging economic times. As such, we will employ whatever proves to be the most effective strategy in accomplishing our goal.

The next negotiating session is planned for mid-June, and an update will be provided UTU members following that bargaining session.

SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. — Members of UTU Local 153 here, employed as school bus drivers by Chestnut Ridge Transportation, have ratified a three-year wage, benefits and work rules agreement.

The agreement provides the drivers with wage increases retroactive to Sept. 1, 2010, improvements in personal leave-day policy, training pay, and bereavement leave. UTU negotiators blocked attempts by the carrier for concessions.

UTU International Vice President Rich Deiser, who assisted in negotiations, praised the efforts of Local 153 negotiators, who included General Chairperson Wilner Baptiste, President Frantz Fils-aime, Vice President Canez Francois, Treasurer Barbara McIntosh and Secretary Wilfred Hatch.

New York State Legislative Director Sam Nasca also assisted with negotiations.

SAN FRANCISCO — First Student school bus drivers here, represented by UTU Local 1741, have ratified a new wage and benefits agreement by a 72 percent majority.

“Our strategy was to keep negotiations limited to economics because the work rules in our contract are the standard by which most other school bus drivers measure their contracts — by any measure, one of the best contracts for school bus drivers in the country,” said General Chairperson Paul Stein. “Also, our health insurance benefits far exceed most San Francisco city workers.”

“Negotiators for the local were able to hold on to our health-insurance plan without premium increases,” Stein said. “We asked for wage increases for ourselves and a series of raises for the office staff and dispatchers that would bring them up to the level of the drivers. The increases we got for the staff was very nearly what was asked for, and was viewed by most as a victory.

“The unity of drivers and staff and the hard work of the members of the local committee who did the hands-on work of negotiations is a tribute to the abilities of working people willing to fight for what they deserve,” Stein said.

The following update on Amtrak negotiations is from UTU General Chairperson Roger Lenfest (GO 769), who is the UTU lead negotiator. The UTU International is not participating in the talks. Under the UTU’s guarantee of craft autonomy, the International participates in on-property negotiations only when requested to do so by general chairpersons.

The existing UTU agreement with Amtrak remains in force until amendments are concluded under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.  

According to Lenfest:

“Here are some of the reasons why we have not yet reached a settlement.

“So far, none of the crafts who have settled have come close to a net 3 percent increase in pay for their members any year for the next five years. In fact, in the last three years of those agreements, the single-employee contribution to health and welfare could be $230 per month.

“On the other hand, there are several important issues specific to our craft that we are serious about resolving. Certification and the attendant pay for certification is important, as is the issue of the treatment of single-day vacations.

“Furthermore, the meal allowance for conductors who are required by Amtrak to be away from home must be addressed.

“Another important issue to our members is to achieve an adequate amount of time-off for those members who work for long hours.

“In the meantime, there are several economic reports coming in that inflation and increased costs for fuel and groceries are right around the corner.

“It is our goal to reach a reasonable and honorable settlement with Amtrak in the near term; however, we must be vigilant that any settlement is equitable and that we meet our responsibility to place our members in a better economic situation.

“Presently, we are not the only major craft negotiating with Amtrak. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes have yet to reach a settlement with Amtrak.

“In fact, the BMWE recently polled its Amtrak-employed members concerning the acceptance of a contract with Amtrak under similar terms and conditions as those accepted by the crafts who have already signed. We understand that more than 2,000 ballots were sent out to BMWE members; and 85.5 percent of the responses voted to continue to bargain for a better settlement.

“I shall provide further updates as negotiations continue.”

(Editors’ note: In May 2010, Amtrak clerks and carmen represented by the Transportation Communications Union ratified new five-year agreements with Amtrak that, according to the TCU, provided for a 15 percent general wage increase over five years.)

By Vic Baffoni,

Vice president, Bus Department

I extend my congratulations to all the newly elected and re-elected Bus Department officers and delegates, and I ask that they do their best to represent all their membership. Dedication and hard work must include conversation and compromise to produce results. Results are our business.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) negotiations continue on a day-by-day extension. General Chairperson James Williams and his negotiating committee continue to try to hammer out an agreement. The current political and financial climate makes it very difficult. I am confident they will succeed.

The new political environment will make it harder for our hard working members and us to succeed in the near future, but succeed we will.

In the Bus Department there is an issue that should be our priority, and that is operational funding.

Operational funding should be incorporated into all legislation that funds transit projects. Federal, state and local entities have allocated large sums of funding for new and/or expanded transit projects.

These projects fund planning and construction — not operations, which includes driver salaries.

Without operational funding, the future of these projects is in jeopardy and may only create future problems. These problems could be failure of new service, cuts in existing service, or both. UTU National Legislative Director James Stem is aware of this funding problem and has been working in Washington to educate lawmakers on this important issue. He and Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch pledge to continue fighting for this funding.

By Vic Baffoni
Vice president, Bus Department

Negotiations are underway on UTU’s largest bus property, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA).

The UTU negotiating committee, headed by General Chairperson James A. Williams, exchanged contract proposals March 19 with the LACMTA negotiating team.

The first negotiating session was held April 9, and dates have been set for additional meetings. The current contract expires June 30.

A difficult financial climate in California will be an important factor in negotiations.

UTU goals include the closing of wage tiers, protecting current work rules, and preserving of one of the transit industry’s finest health-care and pension packages.

Affected UTU members were sent a comparison of the proposals, with the general committee pledging to protect the members and their families. 

By Vic Baffoni
Vice President, Bus Dept.

It’s a new year. We have a new administration in Washington and a larger labor-friendly majority in the House and Senate. It is a time of new hope.

It will not be easy. The deteriorating economic conditions in this country are serious and will take time to solve. There are no quick fixes.

With the unfortunate death of National Legislative Director James Brunkenhoefer, we have suffered a serious loss.

As the new Congress organizes itself in January and February, our focus– with assistance from the AFL-CIO — will be to gain Senate confirmation for labor-friendly cabinet and regulatory agency heads nominated by President Obama. Updates on nominees and the confirmation process will be reported at www.utu.org. Members should visit the UTU Web site regularly to check on updates.

President Futhey, Assistant President Martin and Alternate National Legislative Director James Stem will be working to educate new members of the House and Senate — on both sides of the aisle — about the rail industry and transportation labor’s past and present role in improving productivity and safety.

During difficult economic times, UTU members are fortunate to have good benefits, good working conditions and a strong union to provide them and their families with protections.

Even so, it is not going to be easy. Many of our locals will be entering contract negotiations in 2009 and management is going to point to the financial crisis as reasons to seek givebacks.

Your union officers and representatives will be doing their jobs, which is protecting your rights. This union has a proud history in times of crisis, and I am confident that our strengths will be evident in 2009.