This week on the 141 Report, we travel via zoom to Denver, Colorado for a conversation with the new District 141 United Airlines Employees Assistance Program Chairperson, Tony Rodriguez. Brother Tony takes over the position from Kathy Furgeson, who has retired. 

The District 141 EAP can quickly and confidentially connect you to counseling, crisis intervention, and other wellbeing services.

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Tony Rodriguez

EAP Chair – United Airlines

iameaptony@gmail.com
Cell: (303) 525-3334

Stations:
BIL, DEN, MCI, SLC, IND

Video Report: Tony Rodriguez is the UA EAP Chairman

Apr 16, 2021

Transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brother Tony! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak to me and our viewers about the EAP Program.

Absolutely Brother Dave, thanks for having me on.

Brother, can you please tell the viewers a little bit about yourself; where did you start in the airline business? And, what’s your background with the IAM? What positions have you held?

Sure. I started off in the airline industry out in San Francisco, California. I got out of the airline industry for a little bit, and I missed the benefits that we get.

So, I moved my family to Denver and hired on with United Airlines back in 1995. Since that time, I’ve worked in three of our major hubs; San Francisco, Denver, and Chicago. It’s been really great working in three hubs and seeing how different places operated – so very valuable. As far as my experience with the IAM,  I’ve held the shop steward position, I’ve been an auditor of the local lodge, a trustee of the local lodge, conductor sentinel, vice president, educator… and then recently I became an EAP Peer, and then EAP regional, and now I’m currently the  EAP chairperson for United Airlines.

Fantastic; you also worked for Pan-Am?

I was fleet service. Like United’s ramp service, but Pan-Am called it fleet service. I worked there until they filed Chapter 7 and I lost my job. My family and I were just starting out when that happened. 

Alright so let’s talk now about EAP. Why is this program so vital for IAM members?

Well every one of us has things that happen in our lives. We have things that get thrown upon us and catch us off guard. Our EAP program helps these people, really it helps all of us navigate through those rocky roads so to speak. And, it helps people focus on whatever their situation is, and what avenues they have available to them.

There’s another important reason why our program is so important right now. During this covid thing, United Airlines has had to cut costs as an airline. One of the measures they took was to reduce the company EAP program by half.  So now there’s one company EAP person for every two hubs. What’s more, the Department of Transportation requires certain accommodations for Pilots and flight attendants that don’t apply to those of us on the ramp or at the gates. I’m not saying that they won’t help ramp or customer service, or stores, or anyone else that comes to them for assistance. But, they are stretched pretty thin. On the union side, that’s part of why it’s so important to have this program available to our members.

So what are some of the issues that you might come across as an EAP representative?

Oh, that’s a big question. So, obviously, this program started out being a drug and alcohol rehab program. But, we’ve expanded so much. We’ve had parent/child abuse cases, we’ve had suicide situations, depression… people that spend all their money on their rent and car payments and they don’t have money for food. So, we can assist with that. There are also people dealing with financial issues, and the loss of a family member – or even a pet. Because, for some people pets are family, you know? 

If you want to put it in a nutshell; anything and everything that could keep our members from coming into work and being that productive employee that they were hired to be, is something that we want to deal with.

 So, as the chairperson for United Airlines EAP, what are your responsibilities?

Well, I would say probably the most important responsibility is before we refer somebody into a treatment center, we need to thoroughly vet those facilities. We usually vet two or three treatment centers yearly to ensure they’re a good fit for our members. We need to know if they can communicate well with United Airlines, who has certain rules that have to be followed. We need to make sure they can provide adequate documentation for things like FMLA. We don’t need a member who needs help hitting stumbling blocks when they’re seeking treatment.

We do these inspections as a group, and we do them at the regional level, as well. I’ve visited a lot of places around here in the Colorado area. We don’t want to send a member someplace we haven’t been and we haven’t looked at what type of treatment there can expect to get there.

 Do you ever need to move a person with a particular issue to another location?

So, depending on the situation. If it pertains to drugs and alcohol, we try to get them out of their comfort zone. We want to get them away from home so it’s not easy to stop treatment. Patients always have a right to discontinue treatment and get up and leave. 

And a lot of times, when it comes to drugs or alcohol, once they start feeling better – they don’t think they need anything else. So we try to make it a little bit more difficult for them to just up and leave.

And, insurance is quite a course to navigate, so we help with that.  That’s one of the first things we do is find out what their insurance is and see where we can go from there. But, in a general sense, if we have the ability to get them away from home that’s what we try to do. 

Tony, what training have you received from the IAM and from other places? 

I’ve been through all the courses pertaining to EAP at the Winpisinger Center. And special topics classes, like Critical Incident Response Team training. we’ve been through that I’ve also been through IPAA Employees Assistance Professionals Association. They put on monthly trainings. I actually sit on the local chapter’s board here as labor liaison. I also sit on the board for LAP Laborers Assistance Professionals here in Colorado.  They have additional trainings that they conduct.  And, we actually just found out our normal conference is going on this year. That’s a week-long training. We also need to get a certification for suicide prevention, learning how to talk to someone in that situation. There’s a lot of training that goes on with this position.

 So what can a member expect when they contacted an EAP Department representative?

OK, and that’s a good question. So, they can expect not to go through the runaround that a lot of companies will put them through. A lot of companies hire an outside EAP company which is an 800 number on the wall. We’ve actually tried those numbers

 We’ve actually sat on those calls to see how long it would take us to get through. And, we were literally,  as a team, on the phone for 45 minutes before we ever got to talk to somebody. Our members don’t need something like that. If they are suffering from depression, or if they are considering suicide they’re not going to wait that long, and go through all those functions. They need to talk to somebody. We are people, and we answer the phone when it rings, and if we miss your call, we will call you right back. 

They can also expect their information to be kept confidential. Confidentiality is the backbone of our program. That is very important to us. We stand behind it. We can’t talk to anybody about their situation without their written consent. When we absolutely must deal with the company, we don’t share any personal information. We might just ask for a person to be removed from the schedule, and that’s all the company needs to know.

 The last thing that they can expect is for us to shame them. We’re non-judgmental. We’re not here to judge anybody. None of us are perfect. They can tell us about any situation, and we’re going to listen and help.