By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Amtrak employees, members of the SMART-Transportation Division and other rail unions protested outside the John D. Dingell Transit Center, 21201 Michigan Ave., to spread awareness regarding job cuts announced by the passenger railroad carrier.
Starting this month, Amtrak is set to cut 1,950 members and 100 management positions as a result of a decrease in ridership and revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The job cuts are approximately 10 percent of Amtrak’s 20,000 employees.
An Amtrak spokeswoman said that the reductions in staffing decision is necessary based on a review of its fiscal operating plan and planned service levels for 2021.
“For the past several weeks, Amtrak has conducted a thorough review of our FY 2021 operating plan, as well as our planned service levels for next year,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “Based on this review, we have identified our staffing needs for next year. While we have implemented initiatives to minimize the number of furloughs and involuntary separations, significant reductions remain necessary due to the slow recovery of ridership and revenue. Approximately 1,950 agreement team members will be furloughed and approximately 100 management positions will be involuntary separated over the coming weeks.”
Rallies also were held Sept. 30 in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Chicago; and Los Angeles to encourage emergency funding which would help keep the passenger rail system service going and save jobs.
Amtrak Conductor Nathan Hatton coordinated the rally in Dearborn and is one of 65 Amtrak employees in Michigan. In 2019, more than 73,589 passengers boarded or deboarded Amtrak trains in Dearborn.
“This is a slap in the face to all the essential workers who have been serving the public throughout this pandemic — sacrificing their health and time with their families and loved ones,” he wrote on Facebook regarding the announced service and career cuts.
On Sept. 9, Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn appeared in front of a U.S. House committee where he said Amtrak needs approximately $5 billion in emergency funding to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without the additional funding, the cuts will impact unionized employees and cause a reduction of service especially for long-distance and state-run routes that service rural areas.
“We recognize that the coronavirus has profoundly affected the national rail network with a major reduction in ridership, which is especially unfortunate when considering that Amtrak had set passenger service records in recent years,” union presidents Jeremy Ferguson, SMART-TD; Dennis Pierce, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; and Arthur Maratea, Transportation Communications International Union, said in a Sept. 28 SMART Union news release.
“However, placing the burden of the pandemic’s effects on all of these essential workers who faithfully kept the service running during this ongoing national emergency is absolutely wrong. Job cuts are not the cure.”
Through the Coronavirus Air, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Congress provided Amtrak with $1 billion in federal emergency assistance to help maintain service for passengers while the economy recovers, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in an April statement.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed Bill H.R.2 — Moving Forward Act in July to invest in the country’s roads, bridges, transit, rail, schools, housing, broadband, drinking and wastewater systems, postal service, clean energy sector and health care infrastructure, a press release from House Democrats supporting the bill said.
“The Moving Forward Act marks a transformational investment in American infrastructure that will create millions of jobs, take bold action on the climate crisis, and address disparities in urban, suburban, and rural communities across our country,” the June 22 release said. “The more than $1.5 trillion proposal rebuilds U.S. communities with infrastructure and innovation that is smarter, safer, and made to last.”
Since the bill passed by the House however, it was received in the Senate July 20 but hasn’t progressed any further.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])