October 3, 2017

Samuelsen Given Full Term at National TWU; Utano Local 100 Head

John Samuelsen was elected by a 10-to-1 margin to a full term as the president of the Transport Workers Union International at that union’s national convention in Las Vegas last week.

In May, following the unexpected retirement of Harry Lombardo from the TWU’s top post, he was selected to fill out the remainder of the retiring leader’s term.

On Sept. 26, Mr. Samuelsen, who turned 50 at the convention, defeated Joe Campbell, a former TWU Local 100 division chairman and staffer under former Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, by a delegate vote of 364 to 36.

Utano Steps Up

Two days later, TWU Local 100’s executive board voted 42 to 4 to have Tony Utano, vice-president of the Maintenance of Way Division, fill out the unexpired term of Mr. Samuelsen’s local post. That Local 100 leadership term expires early in 2019 and a union official said there would be an election late next year.

In a post-victory phone interview, Mr. Samuelsen said that growing the national union was his top priority. “We have already started expanding on our internal and external capacity to organize new workers, just as we are successfully doing in our campaign for Jet Blue’s flight attendants,” he said.

Mr. Samuelsen, who was one of the few labor leaders to support U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 bid for the presidency, thinks that years of increasing income disparity and wealth concentration have set the stage for a major labor comeback. “We need to wage 21st-century media campaigns against unfair employers like American Airlines who outsource jet maintenance and servicing off-shore,” he said. “These guys are the 21st-century Robber Barons and they view themselves as having no vulnerabilities. But I think they have considerable vulnerabilities.”

‘Forget Identity Politics’

He continued, “Just for the sake of profits, they are shifting this vital work overseas, where there is no security and lax regulations. This both undermines national security and the economic security of thousands of solid middle-class American jobs.”

From his national position, he said, he hoped to continue to make his case to the national Democratic Party to abandon what he saw as “this divisive identity politics” for a “more-inclusive economic message” that relies on “bread-and-butter issues...We just can’t let the Republicans outmaneuver them on who is going to provide the greatest pathway to economic security for working Americans.”

Governor Cuomo, who has been widely reported to be mulling a run for President in 2020, gave the keynote address to the TWU national convention prior to Mr. Samuelsen’s election. Asked if his high-profile appearance in Las Vegas signaled his own early support for a Cuomo candidacy, Mr. Samuelsen replied, “All I will say is he is a voice that the national Democratic Party needs to heed.”

The International TWU includes close to 140,000 active members and tens of thousands of retirees. The national union has four divisions: air, transit, rail and gaming. Its portfolio of employers ranges from the nation’s largest air and rail carriers to recently organized bike-share operations in Boston, Chicago, New York City and Washington D.C.. The union also represents workers running the New York City, San Francisco, Columbus, Houston and Miami-Dade County mass-transit systems.

Mr. Samuelsen said that there were opportunities to deepen the union’s reach from its traditional blue-collar base into the white-collar operations of the companies and transit authorities where the TWU is already in place. “We had great success at the MTA organizing the white-collar workforce,” he said.

‘Have to Be Unified’

He said he wanted to be sure to engage even those who opposed him in the ballot count. “The foundation of my success in the past has been on fighting the boss, not other unions,” he said. “You have to be a unified union to be successful, and that’s true for the broader labor movement.”

A lifelong Brooklynite, Mr. Samuelsen joined the union in 1993 after being hired by the New York City Transit Authority as a Track Worker. He was elected Local 100 President in December 2009 and was overwhelmingly re-elect­ed in 2012 and 2015.

Mr. Utano thanked Mr. Samuelsen for his support and praised the “remarkable work that he has done to rebuild Local 100 into the strongest, most-militant, and most-respected union in New York City, New York State and beyond.”

TWU Local 100’s new president said tight coordination between the national union and local would be essential to “face many challenges ahead,” which he said included defeating the call for a New York State Constitutional Convention, as well as grappling with the potential fallout from the Janus case that will soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the equivalent of dues payments by non-members.

“Janus, and the possible loss of dues income as a result, may be on top of us as early as next year,” Mr. Utano said. “We’ll need all our strength and the help of the International Union to make sure Local 100 stays a 100-percent dues-paying membership.”