DEARBORN — With the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacting multiple companies globally, Amtrak announced not only cuts to service, but also 2,000 jobs starting Oct. 1.
Amtrak and other railroad employees rallied outside of the John D. Dingell Transportation Center in Dearborn to raise awareness of these coming changes.
Event coordinator Nate Hatton, a conductor with Amtrak for the last year and a half, said this feels like a slap in the face.
“This is a slap in the face to all the essential workers who have been serving the public throughout the pandemic — sacrificing their health and time with their families and loved ones,” he said. “In Michigan, Amtrak currently employs 65 people.
“In 2019 we moved a total of 1,540,972 passengers on the Michigan Corridor. In Dearborn alone we boarded and deboarded 73,589 passengers. When this pandemic first began we were told not to wear masks or gloves as it would frighten passengers, while management was told to work from home. As a union in good faith we decided to give up pay to help the company only now to be furloughed.”
SMART Legislative Director and union lobbyist Don Roach this is basically a waiting game.
“Bill HR2 passed the House of Representatives in July,” he said. “It’s been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk since. This cut from Amtrak is not just employees being furloughed, it’s reducing service from three trains a day in both directions, east and west, to one train a day to Chicago and the shutdown of the Grand Rapids to Chicago line.”
When this pandemic first began we were told not to wear masks or gloves as it would frighten passengers, while management was told to work from home. As a union in good faith we decided to give up pay to help the company only now to be furloughed — Nate Hatton, Amtrak conductor
Bill HR2 or the “Moving Forward Act”, was introduced in the House on June 11 by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to authorize funds for federal-aid highways, highway safety programs and transit programs, and for other purposes.
Amtrak conductor Joel Myers said this would substantially impact his family if he were to be furloughed.
“I have two children,” he said. “One is at St John’s in Detroit getting chemo right now. My seniority is towards the bottom and with the cuts proposed, I’d be cut. It’s beyond frustrating that this is how essential workers are being treated.”
Since March, Hatton said that employees were told they were not going to get raises and that if all employees were to take voluntary time off, then they wouldn’t need to be furloughed.
“If we are all furloughed, we will need to figure out how to keep food on the table for our families,” he said. “We will be losing a great public utility. This will greatly impact Dearborn and the Metro Detroit area as this is a mode of transportation that people rely on.”
Dearborn Councilwoman Leslie Herrick said the transportation center itself was a $30 million investment and this would significantly impact the residents in the community.
”This is an important part of intermodal transportation,” she said. “It’s important for the future of Dearborn.”
I have two children. One is at St Joe’s getting chemo right now. My seniority is towards the bottom and with the cuts proposed, I’d be cut — Joel Myers, Amtrak conductor
As a supporter of union labor, Herrick said she has close ties to the railroad industry.
“I had family members that worked for the railroads,” she said. “I personally have used Amtrak and railroads to travel numerous times.
“It’s a wonderful way to see the country. I support protecting union labor and these employees went to work feeling unsure at the beginning of this pandemic and they and their families made compromises; and now they feel let down by their administration.”
Hatton said that people rely on Amtrak not just for travel.
“Without funding from Congress, Amtrak and MDOT have cut the schedule to one train daily,” he said. “Michigan also stands to lose the Pere Marquette Service from Grand Rapids to Chicago entirely.
“People rely on these essential services to get to work, cancer treatments, people with vision and hearing impairments count on these trains for transportation. Railroad Retirement will also see substantial losses with these cuts. At this time with the coming holiday season Amtrak has no plans of adding any trains to the Michigan Corridor.”
The rallies were scheduled in Dearborn, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC. Employees are expected to learn their fate on Oct. 1.