House Drops Labor Demands;
July 2, 2002
The White House backed off last-minute demands for labor concessions from Amtrak last Friday, paving the way for a short-term fix for Amtrak's cash problems. The day before the agreement, talks on a crucial $100 million federal loan stalled when the White House sought to attach conditions on the release of funds necessary to keep the passenger rail system operating for the next few weeks.
Amtrak will receive $100 million it must repay out of its budget for the next fiscal year starting on October 1. Amtrak and the administration will ask Congress to approve another $170 million when legislators return to Washington after the Fourth of July holiday. Under the terms of the deal, Amtrak cannot spend any of the money to plan for or operate new routes through September 30, 2003.
Amtrak successfully resisted administration demands it stop entering into agreements that would prevent work now done by unionized rail workers from being contracted out. The attack on Amtrak's relationship with its workers was in direct conflict with assurances given by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta in a meeting with rail labor leaders last week.
"Labor is not a target-those were Mineta's exact words to us," said Charles Moneypenny, Transportation Workers Union, legislative coordinator said June 25.
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, sources said Amtrak President David Gunn resisted White House pressure to compromise the workers, insisting such discussions should occur at the collective bargaining table, not as dictates from the White House.
"While this financial crisis threatens to strand commuters nationwide and put tens of thousands of jobs in jeopardy, now is not the moment to attack longstanding and beneficial labor relationships," said IBEW President Edwin D. Hill. "The administration attempted to take unfair advantage to extort concessions that will hurt the train system in the long run." Amtrak workers have not had any increases in wages or benefits since 1996.
Gunn announced in early June that without $200 million, he would have to close all Amtrak operations, including commuter trains, in July.
Amtraks shutdown would be devastating to Amtrak workers, nearly 1,000 of whom are IBEW members. (To read the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Departments statement, click here.)
Deal Will Save Amtrak