Amtrak contract talks: June 2011 update

June 1, 2011

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John Previsich
By International Vice President John Previsich

Collective bargaining with Amtrak over revisions to the current wages, benefits and work rules agreement continues.

This report to the membership follows a briefing we provided the general committee during its recent quadrennial meeting.

Railway Labor Act Section 6 notices were exchanged with Amtrak in January 2010, and numerous bargaining sessions have been held since, with Amtrak General Chairpersons Roger Lenfest and Bill Beebe leading the UTU negotiators. I am serving as an adviser.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for mid-June.

Discussed at the most recent bargaining session in Philadelphia were improvements to the rates of pay, rules and working conditions, including conductor certification pay and an improved away-from-home meals allowance.

Given that Congress recently slashed federal assistance payments to Amtrak — and Amtrak is responding with an attempt to cut all its costs across the board — the negotiations are especially difficult.

In the face of these challenges, our negotiating team is working closely with the UTU’s financial and health care experts and the UTU National Legislative Office to ensure we are fully armed with concrete facts and data to support the items in our Section 6 notice.

At the most recent negotiating session, Amtrak restated its position that funds are not available for any costs beyond those already contemplated in its earlier proposal to the UTU. Amtrak says that given the difficult economic times, it isn’t possible to improve their initial offer.

In response, our UTU negotiating team advised Amtrak that their proposal is not acceptable — that it is “bare bones” and does not address many of the issues of concern to UTU members.

We told Amtrak that items in our Section 6 notice come directly from the membership as a result of membership outreach efforts by general chairpersons Beebe and Lenfest, and that each and every item requires good faith consideration during the negotiating process.

We continue to utilize an interest-based bargaining approach that takes into account the needs of both parties when crafting a final settlement. Interest-based bargaining historically has proven very effective in obtaining a satisfactory resolution, oftentimes producing results that are more favorable than those that can be obtained from a traditional demand-based negotiating process.

However, for the interest-based process to be successful, both parties must be fully committed to considering the needs and desires of each participating group. We maintain that a “take it or leave it” offer by Amtrak flies in the face of interest-based bargaining — and we have made that clear to Amtrak.

Amtrak responded that it will come to the next bargaining session in mid-June fully prepared to discuss the items set forth in our Section 6 notice.

While the UTU will continue to employ an interest-based strategy in negotiations, our negotiating team is fully prepared to move forward with a more traditional style of negotiations if at any time it appears that would be a more productive route.

The objective of the UTU negotiating team remains obtaining the best possible agreement for our members during these challenging economic times. As such, we will employ whatever proves to be the most effective strategy in accomplishing our goal.

The next negotiating session is planned for mid-June, and an update will be provided UTU members following that bargaining session.