May 27, 2010

CHICAGO (May 27)—Open the April 2010 issue of UTU News to page 6 and you’ll see one of the most remarkable stories never told.

At the bottom of the page is a table listing the 10 UTU locals with the highest average contributions per member to UTU-PAC, the Political Action Committee that collects voluntary contributions from members to help UTU- endorsed candidates win public office.

The top contributors range from Local 1129 in Raleigh, N.C., which collected a monthly average of $11.24 per member; to, Local 950 in West Memphis, Ark., which averaged $9.44 per member.

But only if you read closely do you realize that two of the top ten locals were from the same state—Illinois. Seventh place went to Local 234 in Bloomington, while ninth place went to Local 432 in Champaign-Urbana. Nobody can even remember the last time it happened.

“I think it really says something about the effectiveness of the UTU in Illinois that two of our locals placed among the top ten UTU-PAC donors nationally,” said Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy. “We’ve known for a long time that our record for getting safety legislation passed is impressive. Now we know why: We’ve got some locals in this state that truly understand the concept of raising funds for labor-friendly political candidates.”

Guy said he was understandably proud of the record of Local 234, his home local in Bloomington, where he served as local legislative representative until early 2009 when he was elevated to state legislative director and was replaced by Brian Hagele “who is carrying on in excellent fashion,” Guy said.

Both Guy and Local 432 Legislative Representative Grady Crippin were taught how to approach union members individually to ask them to dedicate a small part of their wages to supporting union-friendly political candidates.

“It requires face-to-face discussion with the individual member,” Guy said. ”If you explain to them that we cannot protect or grow our benefits without the help of friendly legislators, they get it.”

Crippin said much the same thing.

“First you have to get the message out to a core group of local officers,” he said. “You explain to them that we need compassionate lawmakers if we’re going to get legislation that provides our members with safe walkways, or safe crew vans, or professionally trained and accountable railroad police forces.

“When these officers get out and explain these same principles to the members—they get it—and they contribute,” Crippin said. “They understand that our contributions are important to candidates who support us, and it helps them succeed in winning public office.

“We’ve learned that when he have a team of three or four officers, and each of them gets out and talks to six or seven members, they get it,” Crippin said.

“It can be as easy as asking for members to start out by donating $10 per month, which equals about 30 cents a day,” Guy said. “That’s about half the price of a daily newspaper. Once the members realize the benefits of this minor investment they tend to increase their donations as time goes by and they become more engaged in the process because now they’re a part of it, which in turn leads to a more active and informed member.”

Guy said lawmakers understand that labor unions cannot match the large sums that railroads contribute to political campaigns.

“But candidates also understand that when we stand together and get behind a candidate we have the votes to make a difference,” Guy said. “It’s the UTU-PAC dollars that open the doors to allow us to express our views on important health and safety issues that affect our members.

“My congratulations go out to the members of UTU Locals #432 and #234 for their commitment and leadership,” Guy said. “Here’s hoping we have a couple of other Illinois locals join them next year in the Top Ten.”