Arbitration on Amtrak
30-Day Cooling-Off Period Ticking Away
At press time, a 30-day cooling-off period was ticking
down to a possible strike on Amtrak September 5 after the
BMWE rejected the National Mediation Board's arbitration
After bargaining in good faith for nearly three years,
BMWE and its members hope that they will be allowed to
fight for decent wages, though the possibility of
presidential intervention remains.
The BMWE is seeking to match wage increases received by
maintenance of way workers under the national freight
contract. Those rates simply keep inflation from eroding
BMWE already is briefing members of Congress on the
issues should the dispute go the route of a presidential
emergency board. That would delay any job action for
another 60 days and put workers on a trajectory headed
straight for Capitol Hill. In the past, Congress has
stepped all over rail workers' rights to prevent
passenger inconvenience due to a strike or lockout.
"Our members deserve a wage that, at a minimum,
keeps up with inflation," said BMWE President Mac A.
Fleming. "Amtrak's continued refusal to meet such
basic needs shows the fundamental contempt with which the
company holds its maintenance of way employees."
"Further delay only hurts BMWE members,"
continued Fleming. "Amtrak loves to delay because it
saves money, but maintenance of way workers need and
deserve a raise."
Responding to the budget cutting of the Republican
Congress, Amtrak management put forth a plan to be
subsidy free by the year 2002. That plan turns on keeping
labor costs at a flat level, i.e., no wage increases into
the next millennium.
"Amtrak workers' wages also have been lagging behind
what's paid for similar work on commuter lines, even
though most of those carriers are proportionately more
heavily subsidized by taxpayers than Amtrak.
"Maintenance of way workers are fighting just to
keep up, not get ahead," said Fleming. "Amtrak
should be ashamed for trying to balance its budget on the
backs of its workers."
Rejecting the notion that the United States should be the
only industrialized nation that doesn't provide subsidies
for a national rail system, the BMWE pointed out that
Amtrak can afford to give workers reasonable wage
increases. Combining the BMWE proposal with Amtrak's own
business plan, federal subsidies still could be cut
nearly in half on the average by 2002.
In other bargaining news, a tentative agreement was
reached on the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railroad and
BMWE negotiators are scheduled to return to talks on the
Delaware & Hudson and the Grand Trunk Western
contracts in September.