PHILADELPHIA — Amtrak’s Board of Directors is engaged in union busting in order to shift the ownership of this valuable public asset over to the Bush administration’s private campaign contributors. This was the charge leveled by Mark Kenney, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) at a rally at the 30th Street Amtrak station here Nov. 16. The situation is heading toward a service shutdown of Amtrak, which would also shut down the commuters who depend upon the Northeast Corridor, according to union rail workers.

For six years, Amtrak has refused to fairly engage in contract negotiations with its unions, holding them in mediation. The major stumbling block is Amtrak’s determination to “slash health care for our disabled workers, real wage cuts for the rest of us and work rule changes that will brutalize working conditions,” said Jed Dodd, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED). Both BLET and BMWED have recently merged into the Teamsters union as part of its rail conference.

The BMWED represents 2,500 employees who construct and maintain the railroad track, buildings and bridges as well as the overhead catenary system for Amtrak’s Northeast corridor. In laymen’s terms, says Dodd, they are the people we see who have those dangerous jobs working on the rails as we pass them by on our train rides.

During the Nov. 16 rally, scores of tractor-trailers and taxis passed, honking their horns. A school bus filled with students honked and most of the students waved and put up their fingers in the victory sign.

At the rally, Kenney called the Amtrak Board of Directors “political patrons of the White House who know nothing about operating a railroad and, in fact, are opposed to the continued operation of Amtrak.” Kenney charged the Bush administration with unraveling the social contract by “deliberately under-funding public education, trying to privatize Social Security, breaking contracts with volunteer soldiers, spreading unnecessary fear and distrust among the American people or killing the Amtrak system.” He added, “We, as rail labor, have no intention of idly sitting by as the handmaidens of the Bush White House attempt to destroy our livelihoods without a battle to rival all others.”

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