TCU Will Not Participate in AMTRAK Work Stoppage
September 23, 2003…Six Amtrak unions announced recently that they will stop work for one day on October 3, 2003, as a political protest to encourage Congress to increase funding for Amtrak.
TCU believes that the proposed work stoppage, though well-intentioned, risks being counter-productive to its stated purpose of prodding Congress to pass the highest possible federal subsidy for Amtrak operations.
TCU lobbyists on Capitol Hill report that both Democratic and Republican Congressmen and Senators who support Amtrak funding are vehemently opposed to a shutdown of Amtrak as a way to pressure anti-Amtrak elected officials. They tell us that the job action risks driving Republican supporters of Amtrak funding to change their vote.
Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), a key proponent of increased Amtrak funding, was quoted as saying: “I’m an advocate of more funds for Amtrak. But this is a very dumb thing for the Amtrak unions to consider. If they do that, it could very well kill Amtrak because it could drive off a supporter like me. And if they don’t have bipartisan support for Amtrak it is probably going to die.”
Republican support for Amtrak funding is absolutely critical, given that Republicans control both branches of Congress.
Mr. Gunn has stated that the funding level proposed by the Senate would present budgetary difficulties for Amtrak and cause it to delay much-needed capital improvement projects. The House proposal, on the other hand, would cause Amtrak to run out of cash and shut down. Thousands of workers, including TCU members, would be out of a job.
We are approaching a critical moment for Amtrak’s survival. Senate and House representatives must now meet in conference to reach a consensus on Amtrak funding. TCU has been lobbying day and night for Congress to appropriate the $1.8 billion that Amtrak needs and certainly not a penny less than the $1.4 billion that already passed the Senate. Our membership campaign of writing letters and sending e-mails to Congress is producing results.
But as news of the proposed work stoppage circulates on Capitol Hill, the reaction has been strongly negative. Several Congressional leaders have angrily stated that they will not give in to what they perceive as strong-arm tactics by labor. Some of Amtrak’s staunchest supporters have shaken their heads in dismay, expressing fears that they might lose swing votes that are necessary to keep Amtrak alive. They tell us that shutting down Amtrak will only provide fuel for supporters of the Bush Administration’s plan to break up Amtrak, contract out work, and spin off as many of the train operations as possible to private companies.
Furthermore, stranding thousands of passengers could only serve to drive a political wedge between Amtrak’s two most important allies, its workers and its passengers.
The unions supporting the work stoppage have been very clear that it is solely designed to call attention to Amtrak’s funding demands. It has nothing to do with ongoing contract negotiations or dissatisfaction with any Amtrak management actions.
TCU does not know whether the unions planning this action intend to disrupt Amtrak operations across the system or just in isolated areas. We don’t know whether Amtrak will seek legal recourse to prevent the work stoppage or seek to discipline employees who participate in it.
We do know that the threatened work stoppage is jeopardizing support on Capitol Hill at a time when we need every vote we can find to continue Amtrak’s existence. It is for that reason and that reason alone that TCU will not participate in the work stoppage.
It is always hard to disagree with another union’s course of action. All Amtrak unions stand united in our goal to keep Amtrak alive. This is simply a case of disagreeing over the most effective way to achieve that goal. TCU is pouring our resources into lobbying on the Hill, trying to win over the critical undecided votes that ultimately will decide Amtrak’s future. We believe that is the most effective course.