Amtrak has been plagued by funding and process issues that have severely hampered the railroad’s performance. In order to better connect people to the places they want to go, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and restore passenger rail in the U.S., we must fully fund and reform Amtrak.
Professional food & beverage service is an essential component of passenger rail service. Riders require healthy, convenient, and freshly prepared options available onboard as they travel. Instead of investing in these services, Amtrak has routinely cut jobs in this department and attempted to replace workers with vending machines. Food and beverage service must be conducted onboard trains by Amtrak on-board service workers in order to meet passenger demands.
Passenger rail jobs should be good jobs. In recent years, Amtrak has attempted to furlough its employees and contract out their work to lower paid contractors with fewer benefits. These efforts to outsource good jobs using federal dollars must be stopped. Amtrak’s governing documents should be clarified to require the railroad to rehire furloughed workers and to stop outsourcing any of their work.
Despite serving as public utility for decades, Amtrak’s mission statement still alludes to a profit motive. The railroad’s mission statement should be modified to clarify Amtrak’s role as a national intercity passenger rail carrier operating as a public good, as opposed to a for-profit business.
Outside of Congressional intervention, there are almost no procedures to correct management missteps at the railroad. The structure of Amtrak’s board of directors should be reformed to reflect the railroad’s stakeholders, including its unions, riders, and government partners.
Worker protections have been a staple of federal assistance since the 1930s. Unfortunately, today there are a number of different standards and practices that leave many Amtrak workers carved out of some of these protections. Gaps in federal worker and jobs protections at Amtrak must be closed and all federal grant programs for the railroad must come with the same suite of worker protections (including those in Railway Labor Act and the Railroad Retirement Act).
Customer-facing workers at Amtrak face the same threat of assault as airline customer service agents, transit workers, and others. Combating worker assault requires federal involvement, as well as company-level mitigation efforts. Assaulting an Amtrak worker must be recognized as a federal crime (similar to assault on an airline worker) and the railroad must be required to create and implement a plan to protect its employees from these assaults.