Action Alert! | Protect Amtrak's Workers and Daily Service
May 26, 2020
In a letter sent to Congressional leaders on May 25th, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn shared the full extent to which Amtrak ridership and revenue are down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Flynn went on to outline a supplemental request for an additional $1.475 billion in funding, while slashing train frequencies and laying off 20% of its workforce.
After taking time to carefully review the proposal and share information with Congressional allies and other stakeholder groups, Rail Passengers is organizing a campaign to secure additional funding for Amtrak with statutory conditions put in place to protect Amtrak workers and maintain sustainable levels of service for the whole network.
“Let's be very clear: while Rail Passengers strongly supports the need to get Amtrak through this crisis with additional funds, any additional funds need to buy certainty for workers and passengers alike,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Daily train service must be the very minimum service level. We're already working with Congress to get this done, but we need your help to make sure that Amtrak has enough funds to maintain the necessary workforce to fully restore service once demand for travel recovers, and to run all National Network long-distance trains at least daily.”
The request has already generated opposition from key leadership in Congress. Rep. Dan Lipinski, Chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads—and recipient of this year’s Rail Passengers Association Golden Spike—issued a condemnation of the plan, which we are reprinting in full:
“Reports that Amtrak will eliminate up to 20% of its workforce after assurances to the contrary are extremely concerning. This action appears to suggest a continuation of a pattern of misleading statements and mistreatment of workers by Amtrak in recent years. While it is understandable that Amtrak needs additional funding and service flexibility given steep declines in ridership during this crisis, Congress has provided financial assistance to mitigate changes to staffing. After receiving over $1 billion in CARES Act funding, it was my understanding that Amtrak did not plan to furlough any workers due to COVID-19. There are now reports that Amtrak intends to make dramatic cuts to its workforce. It is imperative that Amtrak reverse course with this pattern of disingenuous actions and instead work to be more forthcoming and transparent with Congress and its employees.
“As Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, I have held Amtrak to account for its mistreatment of workers on numerous occasions, including the elimination of call center employees that Amtrak said were no longer needed due to a drop in call volume whom subsequently were replaced by contract workers doing the same work. Given these latest reports about the planned elimination of one-in-five Amtrak employees, recently named Amtrak CEO William Flynn needs to provide a clear explanation of the railroad’s future plans. Mr. Flynn has an opportunity to change the direction Amtrak leadership has pursued in recent years and instead start building a culture of trust and respect within the organization. These workers are essential to providing passengers with the quality of service needed to restore ridership and strengthen Amtrak’s passenger rail service into the future. In April, Mr. Flynn described these employees as the foundation of Amtrak’s success. Attempts to rebuild Amtrak without that foundation in place are almost certain to fail.”
There is still uncertainty in the plan, and Rail Passengers endorses Chairman Lipinski’s call for more details. Key questions that must be answered include:
- How does Amtrak plan to restore service to pre-COVID levels with the elimination of one in five workers?
- What service levels are envisioned for long-distance trains (every other day / five days per week / three days per week)?
- What savings are projected from running less than daily, what are the costs of maintaining daily service, and what reductions in revenue are projected from eliminating daily service and the associated connections?
- What threshold of ridership will trigger full restoration, how will reduced ridership from fewer frequencies inform that decision, and what unique costs will be associated with service restoration?
Absent meaningful responses to these questions, Rail Passengers Association is supporting a request of at least $1.5 billion in supplemental funding for Amtrak in FY2021 (for a total of $3.54 billion in funding) on the condition that clear protections for passengers and workers are put in place.
Congress must ensure that Amtrak:
Uses this public funding to prevent the mass elimination of jobs;
Maintains the minimum acceptable level of daily service for long-distance trains;
Provides a concrete plan to return service to pre-COVID levels when the pandemic passes.
This is an issue that affects not only passengers from all regions of the country, but the very people who run the trains we so passionately want to protect and maintain.
"The Rail Passenger Association's recognition of the essential work done by SMART-TD members aboard Amtrak during this difficult period is appreciated. The Golden Spike Award serves as a testament to the compassion and dedication our conductors, assistant conductors and other workers exhibit constantly through times both ordinary and extraordinary."
Jeremy Ferguson, SMART-TD President
December 21, 2021, on the Association awarding its 2021 Golden Spike Award to the Frontline Amtrak Employees.