April 21, 2014

Hard edge emerges in Amtrak wage talks

Amtrak maintenance-of-way employees say they want a new wage package at least equivalent to what is paid on the highly profitable freight railroads, reports Angela Greiling Keane for Bloomberg. But unlike profitable freight railroads, Amtrak loses about $1 billion annually, says Bloomberg.

Bob Poole, founder of the Reason Foundation, a think tank advocating smaller government and more privatization — and expected to have influence on a new Congress heavily peppered with conservative Tea Party members — calls the BMWE demand “well beyond what the public would think is reasonable given the state of the economy and what’s happened to private sector compensation over the last couple of years,” reports Bloomberg.

Amtrak funding by Congress next year will face “much tougher scrutiny than they have ever had” as the House Republican leadership and a more conservative Senate consider deficit reduction, Poole told Bloomberg.

Congress determines Amtrak’s annual subsidy — $1.58 billion in fiscal year 2010, reports Bloomberg — and could cut back on Amtrak funding or impose its own labor agreement if negotiations between Amtrak and any of its unions reaches an impasse and the sides cannot agree to recom

mendations of a presidential emergency board. Under the Railway Labor Act, existing contracts remain in force until amended.

Bloomberg quotes BMWE official Jed Dodd as urging his members to hold out for more than the almost 15 percent over five years already agreed to by the Transportation Communications Union (TCU) and Amtrak. The UTU is still in contract negotiations with Amtrak.

During the previous round of Amtrak negotiations — which took eight years to conclude — Amtrak agreed to wage increases of some 35 percent over 10 years, reports Bloomberg. That agreement was retroactive to 2000.