U.S. Capitol Building; Capitol Building; Washington D.C.Public transportation funding, transportation jobs, workplace safety, Railroad Retirement and Medicare are under a mean-spirited and sustained attack by congressional conservatives who are trying to muscle their agenda through Congress prior to the November elections.

The UTU and Sheet Metal Workers International Association – now combined into the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) – along with other labor organizations, public interest groups, congressional Democrats and moderate Republicans are working on Capitol Hill to block these attempts, which could be devastating to working families.

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem and SMWIA Director of Governmental Affairs Jay Potesta outlined the conservatives’ agenda that has surfaced in proposed congressional transportation reauthorization and budget legislation:

* Cut $31.5 billion in federal transportation spending, which would threaten some 500,000 American jobs.

* Eliminate federal spending for Amtrak and expansion of intercity rail-passenger service and high-speed rail, with a direct impact on jobs associated with that service.

* Gut federal spending for the Alaska Railroad, which would force elimination of scores of train and engine workers represented by the UTU.

* Delay implementation of positive train control, which is a modern technology to reduce train accidents and save lives and limbs.

* Eliminate federal spending for expansion of local and regional transit service as Americans scramble to find alternatives to driving in the face of soaring gasoline prices. The federal spending cut would prevent the return to work of furloughed workers from budget-starved local transit systems and likely cause layoffs of still more transit workers.

* Encourage privatization of local transit systems, which would open the door for non-union operators eager to pay substandard wages and eliminate employee health care insurance and other benefits.

* Remove any requirement for shuttle-van operators, whose vehicles cross state lines, from paying even minimum wage or overtime – a proposal, which if enacted, could lead to applying that legislation to interstate transit operations.

* Eliminate Railroad Retirement Tier I benefits that exceed Social Security benefits even though railroads and rail employees pay 100 percent of those benefits through payroll taxes, with no federal funds contributing to Tier I benefits that exceed what is paid by Social Security.

* Replace direct federal spending on Medicare in favor of handing out vouchers to be used to purchase private insurance, which will undercut the viability of Medicare.

* Provide large tax breaks to millionaires and preserve tax breaks for Wall Street hedge funds that cater to the wealthy, while cutting by two-thirds federal assistance to veterans and public schools.

The UTU member-supported political action committee (PAC) is helping to fund election campaigns by labor-friendly candidates, and a labor-wide “get out the vote” drive will go door-to-door across America in support of labor-friendly candidates in advance of November elections.

In the meantime, UTU and SMWIA legislative offices will continue their education campaign on Capitol Hill, visiting congressional offices to explain the economic devastation the current conservative agenda would impose on working families.

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

“Stay calm and carry on” has always been the best advice during challenging times.  It is appropriate advice for UTU members and employees as we move forward following the October 10 merger arbitration award.

That arbitration ruling makes the merger look very similar to the merger we were initially promised — the merger the UTU membership and I voted for in 2007.

The arbitrator recognized that maintaining the historical governance of the UTU was important by ruling that the UTU’s cherished craft autonomy, along with general committee autonomy, be preserved post-merger; and that changes to the UTU Constitution not be unilaterally made by the SMWIA executive council.

As required by the arbitration decision, I met with new SMWIA General President Joe Nigro, who took office July 1. The meeting was productive and positive.

At a meeting in early November of all incoming UTU International officers — a meeting traditionally held between a quadrennial convention and those officers being seated — we discussed the events of the past four years. 

We agreed unanimously that UTU members’ interests have been vigorously defended, and it is now time to move forward — discussing with the SMWIA the rights and traditions of both organizations, and to collaborate constructively in finding the most efficient and equitable means of resolving any further outstanding differences, including pending litigation.

I know that I speak for Joe Nigro, as well, when I say that the leadership of both the UTU and the SMWIA has, as our highest priority, the delivery to our members of the wages, benefits and working conditions they expect and deserve.  We also share a commitment to our loyal employees, who serve our members on a daily basis.

In the meantime, I assure you that our United Transportation Union and our United Transportation Union Insurance Association are each financially strong and are continuing to grow stronger notwithstanding this deep and lengthy recession.

As we put substantial merger-related litigation expenses behind us, and continue managing our other costs wisely, the UTU’s monthly surplus will continue to grow and allow for improved member representation.

The UTU and its predecessor unions have persevered and prospered for nearly a century and a half by being resolute in representing our members and flexible in the face of changing demands and events. It is a formula that has served our members well and will continue to serve us well.

An arbitrator has ruled that a merger between the UTU and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) be implemented and that the presidents of the two unions – or their designees — meet to decide how the implementation is to proceed.

Arbitrator Michael H. Gottesman said the merger agreement to create the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Workers Union is an enforceable agreement. Gottesman was named by AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka to decide the question of enforceability after binding arbitration was ordered by Federal District Court Judge John Bates.

Gottesman acknowledged that there is pending before Judge Bates another merger related case – a complaint by several UTU members that Titles I and V of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) were violated. When Judge Bates ordered binding arbitration to determine if the UTU-SMWIA merger agreement is enforceable, he said the LMRDA claims were beyond the purview of the arbitrator, and that he would decide those claims following the outcome of the arbitration.

Although the SMWIA asked Gottesman to allow the SMWIA to, in Gottesman’s words, “effectively micromanage the implementation of the merger, complete with timelines and very detailed instructions for the behavior of UTU officials,” Gottesman denied the request.   

Ruled Gottesman: “It is far better that the parties decide how to implement the merger than to have an arbitrator do so.” Accordingly, the award simply directs the presidents of UTU and SMWIA (or their designees) to meet “to discuss any and all issues pertinent to implementation of the merger … and to continue meeting on a regular basis until all such matters have been resolved.”

Pursuant to a March 4 ruling of a federal district court judge, an arbitrator has been named to determine whether the merger agreement between the UTU and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) is an enforceable agreement.

Georgetown University law professor Michael H. Gottesman has been named by AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka as the arbitrator — a choice approved jointly by UTU International President Mike Futhey and SMWIA National President Mike Sullivan.

In his March 4 ruling, Federal Judge John Bates said a separate action brought by several UTU members, challenging the validity of the merger — alleging violations of Titles I and V or the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act — is not within the arbitrator’s jurisdiction and that he would delay a ruling on that complaint pending the outcome of the arbitration.

Arbitrator Gottesman earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and his law degree from Yale University.

He teaches labor law, constitutional law and civil rights at Georgetown University.

Gottesman held an appointment from President Jimmy Carter to review hundreds of candidates for federal court vacancies, and has published numerous articles for law journals. His latest article, “The Role of Labor in the 21st Century,” will be published later this year by the Columbia University Law Review.

As matters develop, further information will be posted at www.utu.org.

SAN FRANCISCO — In response to UTU International President Mike Futhey announcing the flawed merger attempt with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association “dead,” some 800 UTU members at a western regional meeting here July 8 responded with thunderous applause, foot-stomping, cheering and whistling.

“There will not be a merger today. There will not be a merger tomorrow. There will never be a merger with the Sheet Metal Workers,” Futhey told the loudly supportive International vice presidents, general chairpersons, state legislative directors, delegates, local officers and leaders in training while delivering his state of the union message.

Futhey described 18 painful months of frustrating talks with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) leadership, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in court costs incurred as a result of the flawed merger that was initiated by a previous administration.

Implementation of the merger was halted by a federal district court in December 2007, prior to Futhey taking office.

In issuing, first, a temporary restraining order against the merger, and then a preliminary injunction, the federal court ruled that the UTU membership had not been permitted an informed vote when the merger question first was put out for ratification in mid-2007.

If the merger were to be restarted, said Federal Judge John Adams, a constitution for the merged organizations would have to be written and then submitted to the UTU membership for ratification — a process that was ignored when the initial merger ballot was sent to the membership in 2007 by a previous administration.

Among crucial facts withheld from the membership was that UTU’s cherished craft autonomy would be eliminated upon implementation of the merger.

In an attempt to lawfully restart the merger process — as suggested by the federal court — Futhey sought to engage the SMWIA to write the constitution that would govern a merged SMWIA and UTU.

“I have gone to the SMWIA time and time again to put a constitution together and protect the interests of UTU members,” Futhey said. “I met a stone wall each time.” He said the UTU’s insistence that craft autonomy be preserved in any merger was met by a SMWIA response that craft autonomy “can’t be accepted.”

Futhey said that when he took the UTU Board of Directors to a meeting with the SMWIA leadership in Washington — asking, “What will it take to put the constitution together” — the UTU was again rebuffed. The UTU board “overwhelmingly” said, “let’s walk away,” Futhey reported.

The federal court injunction against the merger is currently on appeal before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, with no time limit on when a decision might be reported out.


Futhey, in his state of the union message, said that in the 18 months since his administration has taken office, the finances, organizing efforts and image of the UTU have improved markedly.

The balance of the UTU general fund has almost doubled over the past 18 months, Futhey said, while the UTU Insurance Association surplus has climbed to $23 million, the Discipline Income Protection Plan is back in the black, the strike fund has grown by 45 percent, and necessary funds will be available for the 11th quadrennial convention in 2011.

Futhey reported that more than 300 pilots and flight attendants employed by Great Lakes Airlines have voted to be represented by the UTU; that more than 80 percent of some 110 pilots with Lynx Aviation have signed authorization cards seeking UTU representation; and the UTU is working to organize an even larger airline.

Increased organizing among bus-industry employees is further improving the UTU’s image — especially within the AFL-CIO — as a transportation union “moving forward,” Futhey said.

The UTU especially has gained stature among other transportation unions as a result of President Obama nominating two UTU officials for senior federal agency leadership roles, Futhey said.

Former UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo was confirmed by the Senate as the nation’s federal railroad administrator, and UTU Associate General Counsel Dan Elliott was nominated by President Obama July 7 to be chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.


The UTU, Futhey said, also worked jointly with other transportation unions on behalf of successful Senate confirmation of former Association of Flight Attendants President Linda Puchala to be a member of the National Mediation Board, and former Air Line Pilots Association President Randy Babbitt to be federal aviation administrator.

The UTU PAC is essential to gaining labor- and UTU-friendly legislation, Futhey said, pointing to efforts underway to achieve new bus- and airline-safety legislation, and passage last year of the most comprehensive rail safety bill in more than a generation.

“The [rail safety] bill goes farther than we wanted [in some respects] and we may need further legislation to fix what wasn’t contemplated,” he said. And, once again, the UTU PAC will play a crucial role in that effort, Futhey said.


Futhey also had a message for carriers seeking unilaterally to change labor contracts using elements of the safety bill as an excuse, rather than negotiate changes as contemplated by the legislation. “We will defend our contracts,” Futhey said.

He also said the UTU would “not tolerate” carrier intimidation and harassment of members, and is moving on multiple fronts — in collaboration with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen — to ensure a minimum of two crew members on all trains, including switching operations in conventional and, especially, remote control modes.


Futhey said that in advance of Railway Labor Act Section 6 notices being served in November — to begin a new round of national rail negotiations on wages, benefits and working conditions — UTU members will soon be asked for contract-change suggestions, and that a draft of Section 6 demands will be prepared for final determination in October by the autonomous UTU Association of General Chairpersons.