July 12, 2007: by Jim Eubanks and Ed Michael: The United Transportation Union (UTU), the main union for conductors on the railways, is proposing a merger with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA).
Why is the UTU so eager to merge with the SMWIA when they have a natural merger partner sitting across the engine cab from their members—the Teamster engineers in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen? A merger with the BLET makes much more sense.
We’re members of both unions because we think it’s time to come together. We’re getting beat up by the divide and conquer strategies of the carriers. A merger between the BLET and the UTU would end the destructive war between the two unions.
It turns out that this merger is less about building power for our rail workers—and more about business as usual at the UTU.
It’s All about the Money
The UTU is having trouble paying for the outrageous salaries we pay to our top officers.
Last year, Paul Thompson, UTU International President, made $258,093. And Thompson’s not the only one making big money. In 2006, the eight lowest-paid Vice Presidents each made $137,094.
International officers also get an extra pension on top of Railroad Retirement.
These salaries and pensions are costing us a lot. In 2004, for example, the UTU put $7.53 million in the officers’ pension fund—that’s almost half of our total dues for 2004.
Trim the Fat
We know how to cut down these expenses.
The Blue Ribbon Committee charged with examining our finances recommended that we cut eight VPs off the payroll. They reported: “Our review of International officer assignments and their annual reports clearly indicates that there is insufficient work to support maintaining the current number of full-time officers.”
Here’s the catch: these recommendations will not take effect until the end of this year. If the merger passes, these officers will keep their old jobs under new names.
Put Teamster Power To Work on the Rails
This year, Teamster engineers went through another round of national negotiations without the support of our natural allies, the conductors. We paid the price with a contract that leaves us paying more for our healthcare.
In addition, Teamster engineers on some railroads have ratified a side agreement that appears to open the way to single-person train crews.
The merger with the SMWIA is a dead end for conductors and engineers. The fights between the UTU and the BLET will not stop. Those fights will leave us both weak and divided.
We do need a merger—but not with the SMWIA. A UTU-BLET merger would put our unions back on the right track.