Union: Amtrak Furloughs Put Passenger Safety ‘In Jeopardy’

An Amtrak conductor steps off the Empire Builder at Essex, Montana on August 31, 2020. Photo by Justin Franz. 

Union: Amtrak Furloughs Put Passenger Safety ‘In Jeopardy’

By Justin Franz

WASHINGTON D.C. — The leader of a union that represents more than a quarter of Amtrak employees who will be furloughed Oct. 1, said the cuts will put passenger health and safety “in jeopardy.”

Earlier this week, Amtrak informed approximately 1,950 union employees and 100 management employees that they would be laid off next month. The furloughs coincide with when Amtrak will be reducing long-distance passenger service on most routes to just three days a week. Spokesperson Marc Magliari said the reduced workforce will reflect Amtrak’s needs in the months ahead as it deals with declining ridership because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“For the past several weeks, Amtrak has conducted a thorough review of our FY 2021 operating plan, as well as our planned service levels for next year,” Magliari wrote in an email. “Based on this review, we have identified our staffing needs for next year. While we have implemented initiatives to minimize the number of furloughs and involuntary separations, significant reductions remain necessary due to the slow recovery of ridership and revenue.”

Members of the Amtrak Service Workers Council; SMART; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; Transportation Communications Union; and the American Railway and Airway Supervisors Association will all be impacted by the cuts. 

John Feltz, vice president of the Transport Workers Union of America Rail Division, which represents the Amtrak Service Workers Council, said the cuts were not a surprise but were still not welcome. In May, Amtrak CEO William J. Flynn said the railroad needed an additional $1.475 billion for Fiscal Year 2021 to avoid service cuts and layoffs but Congress has yet to cut a check. According to Feltz, 698 members of the Amtrak Service Workers Council, which includes onboard attendants, will be furloughed. Feltz said that is particularly concerning because onboard attendants are the ones who clean and sterilize trains while en route. 

“My members are on the frontlines of this pandemic,” Feltz said, adding that the furloughs could result in less onboard sanitation. “Amtrak is putting the (health and safety) of the riding public in jeopardy doing this.”

Amtrak declined to respond to the allegation that trains would be cleaned less because of the furloughs. 

Feltz also expressed frustration that managers who took pay cuts at the beginning of the pandemic will soon start receiving their full salaries again. Amtrak declined to comment on that. 

Congressman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, said Wednesday that he planned on holding a hearing about the cuts next week. “These workers deserve better from Amtrak leadership and Congress needs to act quickly to prevent furloughs and avoid long-distance service cuts,” he said. 

This article was posted on: September 3, 2020