Amtrak unions threaten strike

One-day job action would draw attention to importance of passenger rail

More than 8,000 Amtrak union members, fed up with what they call inadequate government rail funding, threatened to walk off the job on Oct. 3 in a one-day strike.

"The idea is to try and give the public a snapshot of what the country would look like without a national rail system," said Charles Moneypenny, a director of the AFL-CIO's Transport Workers Union.

"We believe we have the legal right to politically protest the persistent underfunding of Amtrak. Our members are fed up with trying to duct tape the railroad together so it can run," Moneypenny said.

Amtrak employs roughly 20,000 unionized workers. Moneypenny said labor groups representing 8,000 key workers have agreed to the walkout. "If you don't have engineers or mechanics the trains are not going to run," he said. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is one of the unions planning to participate in the walk-out.

A railroad industry source said Amtrak would likely seek a court injunction to block the threatened walkout on Oct. 3, but a spokesman for the railroad would not confirm that.

Amtrak President David Gunn said the railroad needs to be adequately funded but opposed labor's approach to putting pressure on Congress and the Bush administration.

"Amtrak has a legal and public service obligation to provide inter-city passenger rail service each and every day. We anticipate all of our employees will abide by existing contracts and the law," Gunn said in a statement.

Moneypenny said his union was passing out leaflets to passengers urging them to call their representatives in Congress to urge full funding.

Amtrak has requested $1.8 billion in subsidies for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, citing the need for urgent repairs to its Northeast Corridor infrastructure.

In an advisory sent to employees, Gunn said on "any given day" something could fail and large parts of the system could be shut down." The Senate is considering $1.34 billion in subsidies, while the House of Representatives has approved $900 million.

In related Amtrak news, the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department (TTD) unanimously adopted a policy resolution calling for $1.8 billion in Amtrak funding for Fiscal Year 2004, and a reversal of the House vote that allocated only half that amount. TTD leaders said that the House vote means, "Amtrak could face financial collapse, thereby stranding millions of passengers and eliminating more than 20,000 jobs."

"Congress must finally give Amtrak the resources its needs to succeed. And they must reject policies - and policymakers - that seek to 'reform' Amtrak for the benefit of a select few at the expense of many," said TTD President Sonny Hall.

The TTD did not take a position on the one-day strike because only six of the 11 TTD Rail Division unions are scheduled to participate.

The resolution noted that Amtrak's workers have paid the price for these policies, as their wages are more than 20 percent below those in freight and commuter rail, and new contracts are years overdue.

(Reuters contributed to this report.)



© 2003 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers