Joseph Ciemny Assistant State Director
Local Number: 1534
Joe Ciemny didn’t come from a railroad family. But he came from a strong union background, and it’s influenced almost everything he’s done since.
Born in Chicago’s south suburbs in 1977, Ciemny grew up watching his steelworker father struggle with the implosion of the U.S. steel industry during the 1980s. From that episode young Joe took away an important lesson: A strong union can make a major difference in the life of an industrial employee.
Joe’s family suffered through three strikes and several layoffs, and although his father never served as a union officer he was a good soldier and was always involved and never afraid to speak up for what was right. He instilled his belief in fighting for your rights, his good work habits, and the value of a dollar into Joe and his siblings.
Ciemny says the only jobs he’s ever held have been in a union environment, and he very quickly learned the benefits of working under a contract.
After high school Joe attended college part time and worked at United Parcel Service. After being severely injured in a car accident he remembered getting weekly checks from the union health-and-welfare fund, something he’ll never forget. It wasn’t much, but Joe truly appreciated it and it made him feel part of something bigger.
Ciemny came away from that experience with two strong beliefs: that every worker is entitled to the protection of a labor union that looks after his health, safety and economic welfare; and that he himself had an obligation to serve as a union officer. When he was hired out as a clerk with CSX at its Bedford Park Yard in 1998 he became a union member again, and when he transferred to Barr Yard in Riverdale a year later and became a conductor he found himself a member of the UTU.
In 2005 he got his first chance to hold union office when the UTU Local #1534 Legislative Representative resigned and Ciemny was named to fill out the remainder of his term.
Fortunately, Ciemny had been named LR just as then-UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo was in the midst of his sweeping drive to get the state’s rail carriers to update their dilapidated crew shelters and install safe walkways for employees working on the ground. One of the crew shelters in dire need of repair was CSX’s Barr Yard, which was located in Ciemny’s territory.
Working quietly but effectively with CSX management under Szabo’s direction, Ciemny was able to persuade the railroad to address Barr Yard’s health-and-safety challenges without administrative procedures or litigation. The locker room and lunch facilities were completely remodeled. In 2007 Ciemny’s reputation for “quiet diplomacy” got another boost when he convinced FRA investigators that a Remote Control Operator at Barr was not responsible for a switching collision because CSX had failed to train the RCO’s in proper use of air brakes.
Local # 1534 members have rewarded Ciemny’s achievements by re-electing him their LR twice—in 2007 and 2011—by acclamation. At the 2012 UTU Illinois Quadrennial Reorganization Meeting his peers elected him Assistant State Legislative Director. He has also served as a Delegate to the UTU International Convention in 2007 and 2011, and in 2006 was elected a Delegate to the Chicago Federation of Labor.
Ciemny’s dedication to a life of service extends beyond his union role. He is qualified as a Regional Peer Trainer for the National Labor College’s Hazardous Materials Awareness Training Program and works as a presenter for Operation Lifesaver. He’s also enrolled at the National Labor College as a candidate for a bachelor’s degree in Emergency Readiness and Response Management with a projected graduation date of fall 2013.
An avid downhill skier who looks forward to winters, Ciemny lives in Midlothian and enjoys staying active by running, cycling and being outdoors with his three wonderful children.