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Amtrak layoffs, service cuts would 'dismantle' rail system, protesting workers say

Labor organizations say Amtrak is planning to cut about 1,700 employees and end hot and fresh meals.

John Feltz, the railroad division director of the

John Feltz, the railroad division director of the Transport Workers Union of America, at a union worker rally against Amtrak's proposed cuts to 1,700 on-board service staff on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

Amtrak workers rallied outside of Penn Station against what they fear will be a systematic dismantling of service quality and loss of thousands of middle-class jobs at the railroad.

Amtrak president and CEO Richard Anderson is planning roughly 1,700 layoffs for the railroad’s onboard service workers, according to a coalition of labor organizations. For passengers, that means an end to dining-car service — cold, packaged food would replace hot and fresh meals.

John Feltz, the railroad division director of the Transport Workers Union of America, described it as part of a troubling trend for the financially strapped rail system.

“We are not going to sit idly by while this robber baron CEO tries to ruin Amtrak and the lives of hardworking employees who make it such a great service,” said Feltz, adding that Anderson is “seeking to systematically dismantle our national rail system by cutting passenger service and getting rid of loyal, experienced longtime employees.”

It was the latest rally for the Amtrak Service Workers Council, which is vowing to stage more events in other major cities to aggressively fight the cuts. Workers have sparred with Anderson since he joined Amtrak after building a career in the aviation industry, previously serving as the CEO of both Delta and Northwest Airlines.

While struggling with its safety record, Amtrak has made some strides in reducing its deficits. Last year, nation’s passenger rail system cut its operating losses to $194 million, a 46 percent reduction in losses when compared to Fiscal Year 2013, and expects to eliminate its losses by 2021, according to a report Amtrak’s inspector general issued late this September.

Jason Abrams, a spokesman for Amtrak, said in a statement that the dining service changes already implemented along the long-distance Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited lines have been “well received” by riders and still allow for a hot option. He did not address the labor’s fears that the changes would lead to an outsourcing of nearly 2,000 jobs, only noting that Amtrak “will continue to evaluate impacts to determine staffing levels.”

So far, 14 chef positions in New York and Washington, D.C., have been eliminated due to the dining changes, he said.

“We are undertaking changes with the dining service to provide higher-quality food with a contemporary style of service,” Abrams said in a statement. “Our continued success depends on increasing customer satisfaction, improving efficiency and costs. This contemporary style of service has been well received by customers, with meals of their choice and at times they choose.”

John Samuelsen, TWU’s International President, warned of an “ugly fight” if Anderson tried to carry out such cuts to improve savings.

“What we’re seeing here is part of an ugly national trend and that national trend is disinvestment in our public transportation system,” Samuelsen said, noting that the federal government should step in.

“There’s been a cyclical (funding) issue at Amtrak; it’s gone on far before Trump,” Samuelsen said. “But one would think this is something Trump would put the kibosh on.”

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