On Wednesday, Sept. 30, members of SMART Transportation Division led the way, along with members of the BLET and TCU/IAM,uniting in cities across America to spread awareness about cuts coming to Amtrak if the Senate fails to act now.
On Sept. 9, Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn appeared before a U.S. House committee saying that the carrier needs approximately $5 billion in emergency funding to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If no additional funding is provided by the federal government, the carrier has announced cuts, effective Oct. 1, of approximately 2,000 unionized employees and a planned reduction of service that would hit long-distance and state-run routes that serve rural areas especially hard.
Rallies were scheduled by SMART-TD and other unions to take place a day before the planned cuts in four major cities: Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.
In a show of supportfor Amtrak funding and in an effort to raise awareness, Wisconsin State Legislative Director Andy Hauck and Michigan State Legislative Director Donald Roach, with the help of Local 168 member Nate Hatton (Dearborn, Mich.),also led the members in conductingpop-up rallies in Milwaukee and Dearborn, Mich., respectively.
SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson accused Amtrak management of setting up the nation’s major passenger carrier to fail at the rally in Chicago, “They [Amtrak’s Flynn and his board] want to take Amtrak and reduce it to a three-day-a-week service for a long-haul with a two-day layover here in Chicago when you’re trying to go from New York to L.A. How is that fair to the ridership? There’s no way that’s going to survive. That’s set up to fail. The couplets aren’t there. They can’t keep people moving. They’re setting us up to fail.”
Ferguson continued to address the assembled crowd, “We bust our butts, day in and day out, to give our country this service, and this is what the board wants to do. Now you guys have gone one step further, you Amtrak employees. You voted to waive off your pay increase this past July. You did what was best for this country and for Amtrak, didn’t you? How did you get repaid? With the threat of furlough tomorrow, right? Twothousand people could be in the streets tomorrow!”
Ferguson also pointed out that Amtrak management is restarting their salaries and 401(k) contributions coinciding with the Oct. 1 scheduled implementation date of furloughs of 2,000 union members. He also stated that Amtrak management has restructured their bonus program to better benefit themselves.
“We’re not going to take that! We’re not going to stand for that! Not when you gave up your pay raises to protect this country and this service! Unheard of! So, let’s get busy out there! Let’s get fired up!”
Meanwhile, at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol building, SMART General President Joe Sellers gave a rousing speech to the crowd featuring many members employed by Amtrak who might lose their jobs.
“You are our essential workers. You are moving our essential workers. Every day, to the hospitals, to the first responders, to the police. You are moving America! We need to continue to make sure that you have the funding, to continue to make sure that you continue to move America through this pandemic! We need you! And we need Congress to make sure that they pass the HEROES Act.”
Sellers pointed out that the HEROES Act, or H.R. 6800, was relaunched on May 15, 2020, and has yet to be voted on by the U.S. Senate. “We need to make sure that the new relaunched HEROES Act is passed. To protect you. To protect essential workers. To protect the job that you do, day in and day out,” Sellers said.
Sellers concluded his fiery speech by thanking our essential Amtrak members, “I want to thank you for the work that you do, and Congress should be thanking you for the work that you do day in and day out! We need the Senate to make sure that they take this seriously. The White House is dragging their feet. The Senate is dragging their feet. That is unacceptable! Thank you, brothers and sisters. We are going to make a difference and we are going to effect change. We are going to effect change in November, and we are going to carry this through.”
SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity was also featured in a report that aired on Fox 5 News in D.C. at the rallyand U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts also spoke at the rally.
New York City and Los Angeles, Calif.
General Chairperson Anthony Simon (Long Island Railroad) and Scott Carey, legislative representative of Local 95 (Albany, N.Y.), took part in a rally with BLET and TCU members outside Penn Station, while California State Legislative Director Louis Costa led a morning demonstration in front of L.A.’s Union Station.
In Dearborn, Hatton told the Arab American News, “This is a slap in the face to all the essential workers who have been serving the public throughout the pandemic — sacrificing their health and time with their families and loved ones. In 2019, we moved a total of 1,540,972 passengers on the Michigan Corridor. In Dearborn alone, we boarded and deboarded 73,589 passengers. When this pandemic first began, we were told not to wear masks or gloves as it would frighten passengers, while management was told to work from home. As a union, in good faith, we decided to give up pay to help the company only now to be furloughed.”
SLD Donald Roach also pointed out to the news outlet that H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act,which included funding for Amtrak, passed the House on July 1 and has stalled on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.
“This cut from Amtrak is not just employees being furloughed, it’s reducing service from three trains a day in both directions, east and west, to one train a day to Chicago and the shutdown of the Grand Rapids–to–Chicago line,” Roach said.
Local 168 member Joel Myers was there rallying along with one of his two children. Myers stands to lose a lot if furloughed with one of his sons currently going through chemotherapy treatments.
“If we are all furloughed, we will need to figure out how to keep food on the table for our families,” Hattontold the Arab American News. “We will be losing a great public utility. This will greatly impact Dearborn and the Metro Detroit area as this is a mode of transportation that people rely on.”
In Wisconsin, SMART members along with All Aboard Wisconsin boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder and rode to Wisconsin Dells, SLD Andy Hauck told SMART-TD. “We had press coverage at both locations and an event in Wisconsin Dells. The train crew was excellent. [The riders] included six legislators and prospective legislators that SMART-TD has supported.”
The rallies caught the notice of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who embarked on a whistle-stop tour aboard an Amtrak train that departed from Cleveland the day after the first presidential debate and later went into Pennsylvania.
“It’s safe to say I’ve gotten to know the hardworking men and women of @Amtrakover the years — I’m proud to stand with them as they face furloughs due to funding cuts. These essential workers have kept us moving during this pandemic –– now it’s time we have their backs,” Biden’s tweet the evening of Sept. 30 read.
SMART-TD is urging members to contact Congress about passing emergency funding for Amtrak. Not only are the livelihoods of SMART and other union members at stake, but Railroad Retirement will also take a huge hit to its funding if these layoffs stick.
Amtrak, despite having been given $1 billion in funding under the CARES Act to prevent furloughs as a result of COVID-19, has announced that more than 500 – 509 to be exact – SMART members are targeted to be furloughed, effective Oct. 1.
Carrier leadership announced Sept. 1 that approximately 1,950 unionized jobs are being targeted by Amtrak’s latest cost-cutting measures, which come on the heels of voluntary buyouts from earlier this year and a reduction in service on a number of long-distance routes.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic has rocked the global economy. However, some countries have it under control and can focus on virus containment and economic recovery while others, such as the United States, are seeing cases continue to rise (more than 6 million nationwide) along with deaths attributed to the virus (approaching 200,000).
“It is our hope to recall furloughed employees as soon as business conditions or funding permits,” Amtrak wrote in its notification of the furloughs.
“This week, another 2,000 workers learned that they will be losing their jobs due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This time it is largely Amtrak employees who operate trains, provide onboard services, and support passengers who will bear the brunt of this administration’s failure to lead the country during this pandemic. The jobs at the center of today’s announcement are good paying, union jobs that sustain middle class families and will be difficult to replace, especially in a time of sky-high unemployment,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “In July, I led the House in passing the Moving Forward Act, which tripled funding for Amtrak to nearly $29 billion. Later that month, the House also approved transportation appropriations legislation that provided $10 billion for Amtrak, including emergency appropriations that contained protections to prevent the furloughing of workers. In fact, our Committee will soon be hearing from workers who are impacted by these furloughs. It’s time for Republicans in the Senate to stop sitting on these important bills and do their job to protect Amtrak employees and so many others currently in need.”
Next week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials will be holding a hearing on Amtrak’s response to the COIVD-19 pandemic. On the docket to be discussed are these furloughs and the carrier’s reduction in service, among others.
Our union is working hand-in-hand with the subcommittee and with receptive members in Congress to see that these cuts are reversed.
“We are doing everything in our power to make sure that this nation’s decision makers are fully aware of the ongoing events at Amtrak and the devastating effects they’re poised to have on our membership,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “One branch of Congress has already greenlit the money. It’s time for the Senate and the White House to do the same.”
U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D – Mont.) recently criticized the Trump administration for budget proposals that would cut funding for Amtrak rural services, especially the Montana Empire Builder line, and wrote Amtrak’s President Richard Anderson asking for accountability and answers.
“Congress purposely created a national network of long-distance and state-supported train service throughout the nation, in recognition of the importance of a transportation system that reaches every community — regardless of how rural it may be. Amtrak is more than a collection of individual train routes: it is a web of essential connections that bind our country together and link rural communities with major markets and economic opportunities. It provides residents of these communities with transportation options on which families, seniors, and businesses rely to access jobs, create economic opportunities, see our beautiful country. and visit family,” Tester’s letter to Anderson stated. “The federal investment in Amtrak ensures the small, mid-size, and rural communities served by Amtrak’s long-distance and state-supported routes continue to receive this essential service.”
Tester also posed the question to Amtrak as to why ticket agents have been eliminated and questioned the accounting methods the carrier is using to determine the cost of long-distance services. He also questioned leadership’s claims that long-distance service is down despite 2017 figures that showed that ridership is up 10.6% from the previous eight years. He asked that Amtrak address his questions by no later than April 29.
Sen. Tester’s bipartisan letter includes signatures from 10 other senators, including Tom Udall, Michael Bennet, Pat Roberts, Cory Gardner, Jerry Moran, Catherine Cortez Masto, Martin Heinrich, Joe Manchin III, Dick Durbin and Kyrsten Sinema.
Amtrak has informed federal, state and local officials along the route of the daily Chicago-to-Los Angeles Southwest Chief that it will provide matching funds to enable a federal grant to be awarded for safety and reliability upgrades in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, the carrier said in a news release Feb. 27.
The funds available to upgrade the route came after Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the FY2019 Appropriations Act, which included funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail, earlier in the month.
The legislation set aside at least $50 million of its National Network grant for improvements to the Southwest Chief route. Amtrak is using $3 million of these funds to match a $16 million grant successfully sought by these states, counties and cities and awarded to Colfax County, N.M. The grant and matching funds from the partners will result in an investment of more than $26 million in preserving the daily route from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Amtrak and BNSF Railway began community discussions regarding safety and other infrastructure improvements in 2011. Since then, more than $80 million has been committed from U.S. Department of Transportation grant programs, state and local governments, Amtrak and BNSF.
As reported in prior articles published on the SMART Transportation Division website and in the SMART TD News, Amtrak has been considering “bus bridges” on portions of the route or the potential discontinuation of the route altogether.
“We’re glad it’s getting funds to go through Colorado,” said Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith. “We’re supportive of all measures to continuing the Chief’s service through our state.”
Amtrak said in the release that it will use the newly available federal capital funding to continue needed work on the next route segment in New Mexico.
The carrier said in its release it is working on a long-term financial plan with state and local partners to address the unique challenges of the Southwest Chief route, particularly where Amtrak is the only user of BNSF tracks in Colorado and New Mexico.
This week, President Donald Trump released his 2018 budget proposal, which includes severe funding cuts to Amtrak along with the elimination of federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services.
Despite criticisms by some in Congress, Amtrak served approximately 31.3 million customers last year with many of its services performing at record years in both ridership and revenues. The elimination of long distance Amtrak routes would terminate passenger rail service in 23 states, resulting in fewer railroad jobs, which means less money in the Railroad Retirement Fund.
Please take a moment to contact your elected representatives in Congress to urge them to OPPOSE any federal budget cuts to Amtrak by clicking the link below and sending a pre-drafted message via the SMART TD Legislative Action Center.
On December 3, 2015, Congress passed H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST ACT) by overwhelming bipartisan votes of 83 to 16 and 359 to 65 in the Senate and House respectively. The legislation is the first long-term surface transportation reauthorization in a decade and provides funding and policy changes for our nation’s highways, mass transit and rail systems. This landmark legislation includes a number of SMART TD policy priorities, many of which are outlined below.
“I’m very pleased with the legislation overall compared to some of the original proposals. The legislation was modified in both houses and in the conference committee to correct many of the harmful issues facing our membership,” SMART TD President John Previsich said.
“Our National Legislative Director John Risch and his team, working with other unions and allies did a stellar job on a very complex 1300-page piece of legislation that was passed through a very complicated legislative process.
“In difficult economic and political times, an effective legislative department makes all the difference and we have one of the best in the business.”
“Considering the makeup of the Congress, overall we are pleased with the policy provisions in this legislation, and that the law covers five years of authorization,” said Risch. “However, we are disappointed that much of the funding came from non-user fees. Freight railroads alone fund their own track and infrastructure. Using general funding for highways puts railroads at a competitive disadvantage because trucks are not paying their fair share of costs for highway construction and maintenance.”
Provisions to protect transit members from assault
Section 3022. Improved Public Transportation Safety Measures
This much-needed section will better protect our transit members by requiring the Federal Transit Administration to promulgate regulations to protect public transportation operators from assault.
The rulemaking will be required to consider the safety needs of drivers in different modes, including bus and light rail.
This provision was a direct result of a joint lobbying effort by SMART TD, the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).
ECP brake mandate is maintained
The legislation largely protects the May 2015 Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) rule that requires the use of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on certain high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs), which SMART TD strongly supports.
While the legislation does require another study on ECP brakes, it also includes language supported by SMART TD that will ensure testing is done independently and objectively, and not by the railroads or other entities affected by the rule.
Additionally, the legislation neither prohibits DOT from moving forward with the May 2015 rule while the study is in progress, nor does it require DOT to issue a new rule dependent on the study’s findings.
The original Senate Commerce Committee language would have repealed the ECP rule and replaced it with a railroad-dominated study.
Inward-facing cameras cannot be used to retaliate against employees.
Working with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn.), SMART TD secured a provision stating that any in-cab audio or image recording obtained by a railroad carrier under this section may not be used to retaliate against an employee. Rail Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R – Calif.) reinforced this provision by specifically mentioning it in a House floor speech.
We are pleased the final bill removed a requirement for efficiency testing.
Removed harmful privatization language for transit projects
Working with TTD and other transit unions (TWU and ATU), SMART TD helped strip a harmful privatization provision from the legislation. The provision would have been an unprecedented giveaway to the private sector by allowing certain public-private partnerships to move to the front of the line for grant awards simply because the project included private money, with no minimum threshold.
This provision – if not changed – could have resulted in lost jobs, lower wages and diminished passenger rail and transit service.
Biased hair testing methods rejected
SMART TD has strongly opposed the unfair and biased use of hair testing for drug tests.
SMART TD strongly opposed previous versions of this legislation that would have allowed companies to immediately begin testing an employee’s hair for drugs.
The final legislation would only allow companies to do so after experts at the Department of Health and Human Services have set guidelines for such testing.
Tank car safety standards
The legislation makes substantial improvements in tank car standards by requiring that all new tank cars are equipped with one-half inch thermal blankets.
All existing DOT-111 tank cars transporting flammable liquids are required to be upgraded to retrofit standards regardless of product shipped.
The legislation requires DOT to promulgate a rule requiring working alerters in the controlling locomotive of each commuter and intercity passenger train.
The legislation requires DOT to initiate a rulemaking for redundant signal protection for Maintenance of Way (MOW) workers.
The legislation provides $199 million to finance a competitive grant program for PTC implementation on commuter railroads.
Funding: Amtrak and Transit
Transit programs will receive a 9 percent funding increase in Fiscal year 2016 over FY 2015 levels and 2 percent increases each year through 2020.
Amtrak is funded through the appropriations process; however, this legislation increases authorized FY 2016 funding levels for Amtrak by $60 million.
CHICAGO (April 2, 2014)–Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Richard Harnish issued the following statement on Wednesday in response to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget, which would completely eliminate funding for Amtrak:
“Buried deep in the pages of Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed 2015 federal budget today is a murder. The victim of this crime is Amtrak, the nation’s federally supported railway system. The eradication of Amtrak will hurt the millions of American railroad passengers, destroy the jobs of approximately thousand railroad employees, and impact the economic life of the hundreds of towns and major cities on Amtrak routes all over this country.
“The Ryan budget aims to cut over $5 trillion in federal spending, on many programs of all shapes and sizes. But when it comes to Amtrak, he aims not merely to reduce the expenditure but to eradicate it completely.
“Does Congressman Ryan imagine selling our train system off for scrap? Or just letting it fall to ruin?
“For the past several years, train ridership has been on the upswing, with more and more customers coming to appreciate and rely upon intercity and interstate rail as a primary means of travel. Rail travel, and Amtrak specifically, supports both business travel and tourism.
“A significant number of states and major cities are now working on plans for major improvements and modernization of the passenger trains in order to make them faster, safer and to hold down the costs.
“Several multistate initiatives for modern, high-speed rail are currently in development. Every major industrialized nation relies heavily upon passenger rail travel because it is less expensive and more environmentally friendly than air travel. Rep. Ryan seems to be unaware of this reality.
“This is not the first time that Amtrak has come under budgetary attack. There are always short-sighted politicians who fail to recognize the economic generating power of a nationwide railway system. They grossly underestimate the impact of Amtrak in linking the country’s small towns, agricultural and urban regions, and in generating businesses along the routes.
“All previous efforts to destroy Amtrak have been met with an outcry of protest from rail and business communities and it looks like we need to make our voices heard yet again.
“On behalf of millions of rail travelers in the nation’s heartland, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association urges Congress: Reject this plan to destroy Amtrak. Invest in our train system, don’t kill it. The rails are a national treasure not for sentimental reasons but as an engine of economic growth and prosperity. Let’s improve them and keep pace with the international standard for domestic travel.”
Here is an update on federal funding to keep Amtrak operating.
The House of Representatives in June approved a transportation funding bill — for the 12-month fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 — that includes $1.8 billion for Amtrak (H.R. 5972).
This is an almost $400 million increase over fiscal-year 2012 funding that ends Sept. 30, but $300 million less than Amtrak sought.
The ball is now in the Senate court, with the Senate Appropriations Committee having voted a $1.45 billion appropriation for Amtrak. That committee action awaits a vote by the entire Senate. If the entire Senate does approve that level of funding – $350 million less than the House approved – the House and Senate versions will go to a conference committee of House and Senate members for a final decision.
There are two other differences between the bill approved by the entire House and the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House voted not to provide any funding for high speed rail initiatives or other grant programs that could benefit Amtrak. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to fund $100 million for high speed rail and another $500 million for separate grants that would benefit Amtrak.
The legislative process has been in almost total gridlock owing to partisan politics, and that gridlock may become worse as Election Day in November approaches. If no new funding legislation is approved by the House and Senate prior to the start of the new federal fiscal year Oct. 1, it is likely that Congress will pass a continuing appropriations bill, whose spending levels each month match the fiscal year 2012 funding levels. Otherwise, Amtrak would run out of funds and have to shut down.
Many congressional experts expect the partisan gridlock to continue past Election Day. Whether a lame-duck Congress will act after the elections (if they don’t pass a new funding bill for Amtrak before then), or await the seating of a new Congress in January to do so cannot be predicted.