Rail Labor continues fight for Amtrak

Labor's Amtrak Action Alliance meets with Congress to secure funding

The Amtrak Action Alliance, made up of rail labor unions, took the fight for Amtrak funding to Capitol Hill in May. The Alliance held three days of meetings with members of the U.S. House and Senate on May 24-26, urging the legislators to support full funding for the passenger rail carrier.

The lobbying campaign was a part of the Alliance's on-going plan to save Amtrak from destruction by both the White House and the railroad itself. During the meetings with the members of Congress, the representatives of the labor organizations urged the members of Congress to support funding for Amtrak, specifically H.R. 1630 and H.R. 1631.

H.R. 1630, also known as the Amtrak Reauthorization Act of 2005, would authorize $2 billion in appropriations for the benefit of Amtrak for fiscal years 2006 through 2008. It was introduced by Representative Don Young of Alaska, Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota, Representative Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Representative Corrine Brown of Florida.

H.R. 1631, also known as the Rail Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century (RIDE 21), establishes authority for states or interstate compacts to issue $12 billion in federal tax-exempt bonds and $12 billion in federal tax-credit bonds for infrastructure improvements for high-speed rail. It was also introduced by Representatives Young, Oberstar, LaTourette and Brown.

These bills counter both the Bush administration proposal and the Amtrak Board proposal. President Bush's spending blueprint for fiscal 2006 would reduce Amtrak's federal subsidy to zero from $1.2 billion, probably sending the company into bankruptcy and possibly spelling the end of passenger service in many of the 46 states now served by the rail carrier.

In April, the Amtrak board put out its own reform plan. The board's plan is based on three ideas: "uncoupling" Amtrak from intercity passenger rail service and "independently addressing" each; creating a "federal matching grant program" designed to attract increased investment from states and private entities; and "the introduction and development of competition."

Central to the board's plan are a pair of labor reforms that would be a disaster for rail labor. First, the board proposes that Congress enact legislation to shift the workforce away from the Railway Labor Act and to the National Labor Relations Act by providing that "all operators of intercity passenger rail will be subject to the same laws and regulations regarding their labor agreements, and that labor agreements of Amtrak and other intercity passenger rail operators shall terminate when they expire rather than being indefinitely extended."

The board identifies several craft specific bargaining goals that would directly impact the members of the Rail Conference. With respect to maintenance of way employees, Amtrak wants changes that would "increase management flexibility in order to deliver production more efficiently." As for train and engine employees, Amtrak wants "greater flexibility including permitting management to determine the staffing of trains and yard crews."

The second proposal the board makes is that Congress should enact legislation to "transition out of the Railroad Retirement system by allowing all new intercity passenger rail employees to be placed in Social Security with the possible added option of 401(k) requirement plans." The impact of this proposal would be devastating for the Railroad Retirement system for two reasons. One is that, over time, the entire passenger rail workforce would be withdrawn from the system, resulting in increased costs and/or reduced benefits for freight railroad workers. The other is that, it may become a slippery slope down which the freight railroads will decide they would like to slide. It would only be a matter of time before the freight railroads decide that they would like to leave the Railroad Retirement system also.

Third, the board proposes "tort reform." This version of reform would enable Amtrak to move a Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA) suit from the state courts to the federal court.

BLET members are asked to email or call their members of Congress (toll-free at (877) 762-8762) and urge them to support H.R. 1630 and H.R. 1631.

In addition, the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department has launched a campaign to build support among state and local governments and the traveling public to provide Amtrak with adequate long-term funding. Members are urged to visit www.ttd.org for information on how they can participate in this important campaign.



© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen