Emergency Rail Board proposes settlement between unions and Amtrak

WASHINGTON (PAI)--A three-person Presidential Emergency Board, named by GOPer George W. Bush, has proposed a settlement of the eight year dispute between Amtrak and the nine unions representing its 6,000 non-operations workers, leaders of the union coalition said. The settlement would give the workers a contract, a hefty raise and would reject all of the passenger railroad’s work-rule demands.

The Jan. 3 ruling, if adopted, means the workers would get raises—other than small cost-of-living hikes—for the first time since Jan. 1, 2000, said W. Dan Pickett, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen/IBT, and Joel M. Parker, vice president of the Transportation Communications Union/IAM. The percent raise would be retroactive to the start of 2000 and would run through the end of 2009.

But the railroad still has to come back to the bargaining table following the board’s ruling, and negotiate with the nine unions. And if the two sides don’t reach a new contract by 12:01 a.m., Jan. 30, the unionists would be free to strike, under rail labor-management law - unless Congress steps in and imposes a settlement.

The unions are preparing for all three scenarios: a negotiated settlement, Congressional intervention or a strike, the coalition said.

After a three day hearing in early December - a hearing which forestalled the strike - the board recommended adoption by the nine unions and Amtrak of the wage and health care provisions the unions and the nation’s freight railroads agreed to last April. The board said the freight agreements have traditionally set the pattern for Amtrak contracts, wages, benefits and working conditions. The board criticized Amtrak’s “cherry picking of the freight contract to take the parts that benefit it while rejecting the rest.”

The board also said the workers should get full retroactive back pay, spread in two lump sums a year apart, to make up for eight years with no raises. The board also rejected Amtrak’s demand for unilateral and onerous changes in work rules. It said those proposals would cause significant instability in the railroad workforce.

“It took an enormous effort by the emergency board to investigate the contract dispute, and create a report that reflects such a thorough understanding of the issues. The board’s recommendations should form the basis for settlement, Pickett said.

Besides the Signalmen and the Transportation Communications Union, other unions in the coalition representing the workers are the Machinists, IBEW, the Transport Workers, the Train Dispatchers, the Maintenance of Way Employees/Teamsters and the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU.