So besides the unpredictable schedule on the less than prompt long distance trains, how do the staff requirements for on board services differ from other hospitality jobs?
I am assuming that OBS means on board services?
If there is no major difference and amtrak were allowed to hire at market rates, not union rates then their operating costs would be much, much lower.
This forum has dozens of topics comparing OBS jobs vs other jobs. Bottom line is that there is no fair comparision. Hotel maids are not required to provide meals to people occupying roooms. Most resturant workers don't have to work 17 hour days, much less contend with the bouncing train. When was the last time the cook in your local resturant had to cook while someone was shaking both the floor under him and the stove he was cooking on?
Are there similarities, sure. Making a bed is making a bed. But making a bed in a room the size of two phone booths can be an art in and of itself. Perhaps however the greatest difference between any OBS worker vs and worker in the hospitality industry, is that those workers go home each night to their families and their own beds.
Having worked in a union as a brakeman on a railroad, I have to agree with Kramerica and Green Maned Lion. There were many stipulations in our union agreement that were very beneficial for the employees but, truthfully, weren't necessary.
One that came to mind was the penalty the railroad had to pay a yard crew if the yard crew was used outside of their terminal. We got an 8-hour straight time pay bonus if we set one foot south of a certain crossing about 45 miles south of the terminal. When dogcatching dead crews past this crossing, it was great for us, and I understand why it was negotiated (to keep the railroad from using lower-paid yard jobs on the normally higher-paying road jobs, although the difference was all of a couple bucks an hour), but was it really necessary?
Another that comes to mind would be the minimum crew requirements (brakeman required on freights longer than 5,280', brakeman and
fireman on most passenger trains, fireman on passenger charters, etc.). These are good rules of thumb, but what is it about a magic number that makes an extra person necessary? What it resulted in is all freights being kept to under 5,280' to keep crew costs down but resulting in inefficiencies because of the need to run more trains or to delay shipments to customers until the next train.
I don't buy the argument that without the unions, work conditions would approach slavery. In today's world, there's too much freedom to leave. Yes, it might hurt a bit if you've got a lot of time invested in a career, but there are tons of blue-collar (and other) jobs that pay just as well as working on the railroad (and many offer better hours). If you don't like the working conditions, go work on construction or in the oilfields or in forestry or anything else.
And in the OBS world, yes, some of the jobs may be made more difficult by the tight quarters and movement, but in a market economy, Amtrak would be forced to pay more than the going rate for housecleaning, cooks, and waitstaff simply because of the working conditions--if they didn't, they'd lose their employees to hotels and restaurants that allow their staff to go home every night. And as far as AlanB's question of whether hotel maids were required to provide meals to people in their rooms--true, it's usually not the case at a normal hotel, but if a hotel owner wanted to make it a job requirement, he'd have every right to do so, and if the maid didn't like it, she'd be free to quit and go work at a hotel where it wasn't a job requirement.
Here's a real-world example. After dealing with a high turnover rate, my current employer in the service industry has finally learned that incentivizing the employees for their performance and providing them a decent pay has actually increased
their profits, as we now have a solid team of reliable workers who are capable salespeople. It's much better than training new employees every few months. So, yes, some employers don't have the smartest and best management and it likely takes awhile to learn this lesson (and some employers do feel that the cost of hiring and training new employees is lower than keeping current ones--but that's a business owner's prerogative), but it can and does happen. And I much prefer the working environment here, where while we do have our share of complaints about the management, we're at least on the same team as them and don't have an us-versus-the-company mentality. (That was the mindset on the railroad: do whatever you can to *#$% the company out of its money.)
The only argument I've heard that might pass some muster is that unions are there to ensure the safety of the operation. They give the employees the ability to stand up and say that the working conditions are unsafe without fear of retribution. But in today's world, the company has just as much of an incentive to make working conditions safe (lower worker's comp costs, lower employee turnover costs, and reduced risk of lawsuits) as the employees do. And truthfully, most of the safety directives where I worked came from the railroad management, not the union contract, and the management did pride themselves on having a lower-than-industry-average rate of incidents. If you find the working conditions unsafe and don't feel you can speak up, well, there are other jobs out there. Maybe there weren't in the days of the Industrial Revolution when unions came to power, but in today's world, employers no longer have a stranglehold on the market. I've known too many people who were fed up with their jobs, or who had a dream to do something, and worked their butts off to attend night school or otherwise work their way through college--I myself have worked full-time and gone to school full-time, and it hasn't been easy--to support the victim mentality that you're stuck in your current job and your only hope for survival is a strong union to back you up.
I'm sorry to come off so harshly on this (I know I'm new to this board). I don't usually take such a strong stand on things. Let me soften it up a bit: I'm not saying that unions are bad. Unions can
do good work, and I would agree that it makes for a happier society when people can stand up for what's right (especially in the face of bad or greedy management). And of course it's more pleasant when someone can stay in a job and build it into a well-paying career without being forced to constantly fear being out of work or having to look for other jobs, especially when the economy's in a bit of a downturn. But is that worth the high cost and low efficiency factor that unions generally create? Some of the negotiated terms are valid, but some of the other stipulations, such as not allowing an OBS worker to work a different craft, are ludicrous and obviously designed to protect jobs from being cut. Again, it's nice when someone knows that their job is secure, but honestly, if a train can
run with three fewer workers (or whatever) and save a huge amount in staffing, why is that a bad idea? And if the train truly cannot
run with three fewer employees without service going to heck in a handbasket, the company would be forced to put more on or risk upsetting the customers to the point they won't come back. (If Amtrak were a free-market enterprise, they'd be forced to do something or risk going out of business, at which point a competitor could take over their route structure or open up a new operation. I'm not an economist or even a business major, so I won't pretend to understand the economics of what could/would happen.)
All right, enough on this--I have a research paper to write. I'm sure there are lots of holes in my arguments that folks will be happy to point out...