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Rail News: Labor

UTU members supplant contractors as new-hire trainers at UP's Chicago Service Unit


For the past six months, United Transportation Union members have been training new hires at Union Pacific Railroad's Chicago Service Unit instead of contractors. Known as "super conductors," the trainers spend 14 weeks teaching newly hired conductors and brakemen — a peer-training effort that's designed to instill more confidence in trainees and increase veteran workers' trust in new hires' capabilities, according to a prepared statement.

Super conductors provide classroom and on-the-job training, instruct new hires on unique local conditions, mentor new hires after they complete training and offer remedial training.

New hires are taught to throw switches, operate hand brakes, couple cars, repair knuckles, build switch lists, read track bulletins, identify signals, give hand signals, prepare wheel reports, and understand brake systems, air compressors, locomotive remote controls, and flat and hump yards. Trainees also learn how to perform required safety checks and handle hazardous-material cars.

Since March, more than 100 new hires have completed the training program; UTU officials expect to train about 100 more by year-end.

"Training new hires over the territory they will actually work, and being trained by the most skilled of the crews with which they will work, is something that should be expanded on the UP and adopted by every other railroad," said UTU International President Paul Thompson. "For 150 years, trainmen have best trained new trainmen through apprenticeships like this."

Because of the training program, new trainmen are better prepared to begin the job, are making fewer errors and are more productive, said UP Chicago Service Unit Superintendent David Barnes. New hire turnover among those trained by super conductors is about 35 percent compared with more than 50 percent of those trained by contractors.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 9/2/2004