Press Event In Washington
D.C.’s Union Station
Takes On Amtrak Cuts
March 18, 2005
Michael P. Annone, political representative of Wilmington,
Delaware IBEW Local 2270 was like a boxer preparing for his next
fight. On March 15, he joined dozens of union members, United States
senators and rail passengers for a press conference at Union Station
in Washington, D.C. to pump up opposition to President Bush’s budget cuts that could bankrupt his employer, Amtrak, the nation’s
largest passenger rail service.
The press conference coincided with an amendment introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Robert Byrd, D- W.Va. the same afternoon to restore $1.4 billion to Amtrak’s budget. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 46 to 52. The vote was a setback for keeping Amtrak out of bankruptcy, but the railroad’s funding will be back on the table when a spending bill is drafted covering Transportation Department programs.
Annone isn’t intimidated by the current Republican administration. He said: "We stuck together through the 80’s and 90’s and into the new millennium to keep Republican administrations from destroying Amtrak. We will beat this Republican administration, too."
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., hosted the press event, surrounded by Sens.Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.; Max Baucus, D-Mont. and John Corzine, D-N.J. Also present was Mayor Patrick Henry Hayes of North Little Rock, Arkansas, representing 1200 members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Edward Wytkind, President of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD-AFL-CIO) and business representatives from Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Carper, who commutes to Washington daily on Amtrak’s Acela, emphasized that the need for an efficient passenger rail system had brought together CEO’s and union members, Democrats and Republicans who are concerned about air quality and congestion on the highways. Calling Amtrak a "damsel in distress" on the tracks, he said: "We will never get better service and high speed rail if we have to convince the administration to appropriate monies for Amtrak every year." Amtrak, he said needs to be part of a long-term national policy for passenger rail service.
Clinton recalled the national emergency of September 11, 2001, pointing out that if it weren’t for rail transportation, her state would have been "cut off from the world." She said that Bush’s policy takes passengers from "All aboard" to "Everyone off."
Hayes said that mayors throughout the nation are facing major problems with traffic congestion. He said that the U.S. is still waiting on an interstate rail system "like the one President Eisenhower looked to in the 1950’s."
Edward Wytkind, speaking for TTD, said that bankrupting Amtrak would be a slap in the face to the 20,000 workers who have done everything possible to keep the carrier operating and a devastating blow to the Railroad Retirement system. Wytkind denounced the Amtrak board of directors for caving in to the administration by failing to submit a funding request for the railroad, saying: "Not even the Enron Board hated its own company this much."
Dominic Liberatore brought placards to the press event supporting full funding for Amtrak. As director of the Ohio Mobility Partnership, he was concerned that more cities would suffer the fate of Ohio’s Youngstown and Akron where passenger rail service has been totally eliminated. "Investment in passenger rail service is an investment in prevailing wage jobs that cannot be shipped overseas," he said.
The front pocket of Sean Hayward’s t-shirt said: "Dedicated." The back of the Transport Workers Union member’s shirt carried the inscription: "I’ve been railroaded! Five Years With No Contract! Five Years With No Raises! But Management Got Raises, Bonuses and Matching 401-K’s!" Hayward, who lost his house after being put out of work after 9-11, said that he came to Washington to keep from repeating the same fate.
J.J. Riley, a member of Local 526, Sheet Metal Workers, from Wilmington, Delaware expressed the frustration of many in attendance at the press event, asking: "Why is this administration investing $18 million to rebuild Iraq’s railroads and starving Amtrak of funds that it needs to survive." The airlines got $18 billion a year from the federal government, added Riley, asking the same question all Amtrak employees are voicing: What about us?
February 16, 2005