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Amtrak Privatization Scenario


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#61 AlanB

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:40 AM

Alan,

"running trains was never profitable"

I'm not trying to be picky here, but don't you think that passenger trains have made money at some point in their history?


I'm suspect that were one to look at one specific moment in time, one could indeed find a brief point(s) where passenger trains made a small profit. But as a whole over the course of time, and pre-Amtrak, moving passengers by train (or any other mode for that matter) has not been profitable. The airlines collectively have barely broken even over the course of time, bus companies come and go and those that remain probably wouldn't remain without help, even if that help is only not having to pay the true value of their passage over our streets and highways.

But freight companies for years funded passenger ops out of their freight profits. Passenger service continued initially because it was a source of pride and advertisement, and then mainly because government forced the freight Co's to continue running passenger service.
Alan,

Take care and take trains!

#62 AlanB

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 12:48 AM

Three, OBS references On Board Service people. They are the workers who run cafe cars, dining cars, and the sleepers. OBS does not include conductors or engineers.

Don't know if this was directed at me or GML or someone else, but I was referring to operating crews specifically because that's where my experience in a union was. There is a difference between blue-collar train crews and service-industry OBS staff, but my points should be transferable between them.


It wasn't directed at you. Based upon a comment by Galls, I just wanted to make sure that we were talking about the same jobs.

Fifth, staffing a train from mid-point will never work since you'd have to transport the people from their "living location" to the start of their work location. Airlines don't change flight attendants halfway through the flight, cruise ships don't pick up new workers off the various islands/ports that they stop at. Travelers expect that the service crew remains constant through out the journey.


True, except that trains change their operating crews several times on each LD route and have no problem doing that. I wouldn't expect the service crew to remain constant: if I got a new car attendant or cafe attendant, I'd be just fine with that, as long as any concerns or requests I'd made were passed on in a crew briefing (like a relacement train crew does a briefing with the outgoing one and/or with the dispatcher).


And I have no problem with the operating crew changing multiple times and in fact I'm quite comforted by that idea. Personally though, I rather like waking up in the morning knowing that I'm looking for the same attendant to put my beds up. And that he/she isn't staring at me, wondering if I actually belong in the sleeper or if I'm a coach pax who snuck back to the sleeper.

It also makes things easier in the diner, as the crews tend to remember whose a sleeping car pax vs. a coach pax. And in the case of the diner, stops aren't always conviently located in the right place at the right time for meals, so as to be able to swap the crews without hurting service. And what happens if the train is running late now. Does the current crew go off duty and say "Sorry, no meals my shift is over?" Then we pax sit there waiting for Amtrak to bus the new crew in, along with the operating crew.

Personally I'm not sure that it can be done differently, much less better than it already is being done.
Alan,

Take care and take trains!

#63 wayman

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 01:05 AM

In this scenario, the Carolinian and the Atlanta-Charlotte Corridor could be combined and take the place all together of the crescent. (One through train running NYP-ATL), then one daily train could run from Atlanta to New Orleans with Atlanta being a change point, or a thru coach.


The Carolinian and the Crescent don't take the same route through Virginia and North Carolinia--not at all!
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#64 GG-1

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 02:29 AM

Unions aren't much better. But if a union could negotiate contracts fairly for both the employes and the company and without creating a employee-versus-company mentality, I might have less of a problem with unions. Unfortunately, they're selfish and only look out for their own, to the downfall of the company itself, which ends up hurting the employees by putting them out of work (union contracts with defunct companies do no good). That's the problem I have with unions, not that the workers themselves are not worth it.

That is the statement that bothers me. MOST union leaders truly understand the COMPANY needs to survive. But what happens all to often is misrepresentation. The misrepresentation created the hard nose attitude, whether it is from the members or Union officials or management.

Some times bad choices occur, In my industry bad Choices can kill, some of the same choices can and have killed in the Rail/transportation industry.

I remember my first contract committee session very clearly even today. We wanted only 15 cents per hour, to go from 3.85 to 4.00 per hour. The employer showed up at the session driving the car that was written up in the local newspapers as the most expensive car ever sold in the Islands, This car was a gift to his wife. Is main car use to be the most expensive car car sold in the Islands. about 12 years ago this same employer was in the newspaper as finally some one else could claim the record for the most expensive car, this was after about 20 years, The settlement way back then 1972 was 4.25 per hour I think we stayed reasonable.

This does not mean either side is good or bad, we can just hope that BALANCE can be found.

Mahalo

Edited by GG-1, 13 February 2008 - 02:55 AM.

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#65 meatpuff

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 07:32 AM

I know it doesn't seem fair to most people that a hard-working janitor or hotel maid can be paid so little while white-collar, college-educated management is paid so much, and I don't necessarily believe that Fortune 500 CEOs are often worth the millions they pay themselves, but the truth is that anyone who's desperate for a job can go to these entry-level, minimum-wage jobs while it takes special talent to cast a vision to run a company effectively.
...
I know several visionary executive-types personally, and I have to say that they're worth their salt (though none of the ones I know makes millions). Although I don't know him, Jim Sinegal of Costco is a great example of a visionary guy and an effective leader who has the humility to draw a fairly small (for a company his size) salary but one that provides a perfectly fine standard of living. But it's precisely those qualities that make him such a good leader and Costco such a well-run company--the greedy executives of the Enrons and Tycos will eventually fall.


People are generally paid by what value they add. So if you are an assembly line worker at an auto plant, you will be paid along the lines of what percentage of work you did in transforming a pile of raw materials into a much more valuable automobile. Talented white-collar managers and CEOs can add quite a bit of value. If a CEO of a large-ish corporation can see how to eliminate waste to help the company's bottom line to the tune of $15M per year, then what a bargain to pay him a one million dollar salary! CEOs having the vision, knowledge and iron will to make these kind of changes are rare, and are paid accordingly.

#66 meatpuff

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 07:45 AM

A century ago, unions were needed because of the awful working conditions and hours. But now we have government regulations over workplace conditions, and there are so many more job options for people now, that if you don't like the hours, you can get a different job.

I would consider any change in my "work rules". That's because I don't have work rules. I'm an engineer (not of the train type, sorry!) and I've been hired to do engineering and I've got a set amount of pay. But in reality I do whatever my boss tells me I should do. For the most part I do engineering, but my duties include other stuff, like spare parts sales. And if I don't like it, I'm free to find another job.


I'm sorry if this gets a little off-topic, but I find your lack of respect for the labor movement and its history a little short-sighted.

The labor movement and unions are the people who brought you such novelties as the ten- and then eight-hour day, the weekend, and the end of child labor. Many people were fired and indeed killed to reach these achievements, and this was only recently: the eight-hour day being written into law arrived within the lifetimes of our grandparents (1938).

It was the attitudes that had to be changed first before the laws. In the early 20th century if you would have preferred your job digging ditches to have shifts shorter than twelve hours, you would have just been considered lazy. This is in analogy to the civil rights movement, where before the 1960s the place of women and blacks in society were just considered to be where they belonged. It took years of organizing, sacrificing and being shot at by the US National Guard in both cases for these attitudes to change. Whether your job is digging ditches or digging through lines of C, you today have benefitted from these brave activists.

Your statement about there being lots of job options misses the point. As wages and benefits to workers decrease, there will be more job options - supply and demand. For example, every fast food restaurant in my town is hiring. This was also true after the Industrial Revolution and before the Labor Movement; indeed, there were enough jobs even for every ten-year old to find one!

Your being part of the class of knowledge workers as an engineer does protect you for right now, but this might change. Right now, the market for knowledge workers is better than that for manual labor. This is because not everyone has certain training while everyone has a pair of arms. But it may not always be this way in many knowledge jobs. Indeed, recently the TV and movie industry decided they would give less and less of the pie to their writers going forward, and only vigorous opposition and a strike from the Writer's Guild was able to prevent that. And TV writers are talented, white-collar, college-educated knowledge workers!

We will probably see more of this in the coming years in more fields. The job market will swamped over the next decades by millions or billions or Chinese, Indians and others with the equivalent of a US bachelor's degree. This may make a college education, even in engineering, more akin to a pair of arms than to something special in more and more fields.

There are certain bad apples in every arena. For example, though I personally find Al Sharpton to be irritating, I still honor the past and future goals of the civil rights movement to make sure every American is allowed to contribute to society. Similarly, I personally find the work rules of some Amtrak workers to be anachronistic (more appropriate to the Steam Age) and there is no question that certain unions have killed their employer to preserve their benefits. I am happy to ciriticize these "bad apples" over their selfishness. But I still honor the past accomplishments and future of the labor movement, and the role of unions.

I myself am leaving school next year with a graduate degree in electrical engineering. There's no way I'll end up being in a union. But I respect their role in the past in giving me decent working conditions, and their probable role in protecting the middle class moving forward, and keeping the American Dream alive for the non-Learjet set (who don't take Amtrak and aren't on this board anyway :P ). We must make sure that the hard-won attitudes of today about labor don't regress, so that the labor movement won't have to go through all that again if they end up being truly needed in the coming decades!

#67 Kramerica

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 09:30 AM

Kramerica: You need to realize that, even ignoring "global warming" which I regard as more politics and a power grab than anything else, we are not going to keep being able to find and burn oil forever. Therefore, we have got to figure out methods that where ever people are moving in significant numbers to provide very low energy consuming methods of hauling them, and that means rail. In freight it is even more critical. We should in this country be doing our utmost to find methods of generating electricity that do not involve burning oil, gas, or coal and stringing wires over railroads. Both short haul flights and long haul trucking should be discouraged with an eye toward their ultimate elimination.

I'm confused. Where did I ever post anything about finding and burning oil forever? Also, I am in favor of improved rail infrastructure, contrary to what you seem to be saying about me in the paragraph above.

#68 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 11:20 AM

True, except that trains change their operating crews several times on each LD route and have no problem doing that. I wouldn't expect the service crew to remain constant: if I got a new car attendant or cafe attendant, I'd be just fine with that, as long as any concerns or requests I'd made were passed on in a crew briefing (like a relacement train crew does a briefing with the outgoing one and/or with the dispatcher).


People who take OBS jobs, or at least a notable portion of them, probably like their lifestyle, difficult as it may be. Prior to meeting my g/f, I probably would have loved that lifestyle and jumped at the chance to work a LD OBS job. Some of the OBS are gigantic pricks who should never be in a service-industry job. They make up about 10% of Amtrak's LD OBS people, I'd wager. The rest of them are the backbone of Amtrak's long-distance business.

Ask anybody in the car industry. Cutting costs is the most difficult thing in business when it comes to avoiding middle-management excess. Why? Because cutting costs can sometimes reduce pointless expense and excess. It is more likely, however, to cut quality. Imprudent cost cutting has brought the American auto industry to its knees.

If you can remove a worker from the kitchen of a dining car without me, a passenger, noticing, go right ahead. But if the passenger will notice, god forbid you do it. The adjustment on the CONO was a master-stroke, although I would have based it on a Lounge. SDS was an act of peerless idiocy.

Changing OBS along a route would possibly reduce cost mildly. It would probably increase it in the event of late trains. In the end it would barely cut cost in total, while degrading the level of service incredibly. What makes Amtrak's long distance lateness tolerable are the OBS crews. I can enjoy the extra time on the train in the same level of luxury and comfort as the rest of the trip. If the OBS shut down when the crew went dead, it would be horrible.

This is not directed at GML specifically, as I do agree that it's wrong to insinuate that blue-collar workers are somehow less than white-collar middle-management, but I did want to make one comment:

I know it doesn't seem fair to most people that a hard-working janitor or hotel maid can be paid so little while white-collar, college-educated management is paid so much, and I don't necessarily believe that Fortune 500 CEOs are often worth the millions they pay themselves, but the truth is that anyone who's desperate for a job can go to these entry-level, minimum-wage jobs while it takes special talent to cast a vision to run a company effectively. I've been a janitor, a blue-collar laborer, and a middle manager (in a very small company in the service industry--honestly, my job would likely fall into the category your dad would can, but hey, the job was handed to me), and I know several visionary executive-types personally, and I have to say that they're worth their salt (though none of the ones I know makes millions). Although I don't know him, Jim Sinegal of Costco is a great example of a visionary guy and an effective leader who has the humility to draw a fairly small (for a company his size) salary but one that provides a perfectly fine standard of living. But it's precisely those qualities that make him such a good leader and Costco such a well-run company--the greedy executives of the Enrons and Tycos will eventually fall. Just knowing how screwed up government bureaucracy can be, I just can't support government regulating what people are paid. Unions aren't much better. But if a union could negotiate contracts fairly for both the employes and the company and without creating a employee-versus-company mentality, I might have less of a problem with unions. Unfortunately, they're selfish and only look out for their own, to the downfall of the company itself, which ends up hurting the employees by putting them out of work (union contracts with defunct companies do no good). That's the problem I have with unions, not that the workers themselves are not worth it.


First of all, he wasn't my dad. My dad is a psychologist. This was my best-friend's dad. A good CEO is worth his weight in gold. They aren't worth their weight in Platinum, Uranium, diamonds, rubies, or sapphires (which is how some seem to be paid). Without a visionary genius at the helm, a company will not get anywhere. I don't disagree with you.

A good management structure is also important. Even the best CEO can't manage every single worker in a large company. He needs people under him to help, and in really large companies, those people under them need people under them to help too. The larger the company, the more layers of management you need. A person can only manage so much.

The problem is that in far too many situations, there are a lot of things that aren't needed. Cutting jobs amplifies itself, believe it or not. A manager can handle a certain number of people before being overwhelmed. If you cut 300 people from various departments, you can then remove a half dozen or so managers, restructuring the system so that the other managers take the load. If you remove a half dozen managers, you can probably eliminate an upper manager.

These 307 people need things to support them. There are going to be a few secretaries for that group that are now redundant. Fleet managers, logistics people, travel departments, and so on can be made smaller. 320 people cut from the force means 320 less computers. You can remove that expense, and probably a member of your IT staff, as well. Now that you have 321 people no longer working for you, you need 321 peoples worth of less office space. So you can relocate to a smaller building, or derive revenue from renting the unused portion of your current building. Since you are no longer occupying that space, you need less cleaning staff, less security, less maintenance people. You produce less garbage, so your refuse expenses go down.

My friends dad was an extremist, I'll admit. He once told me, "If you have 4 people in a department, and each one is idle for two hours a day, fire one of them." He was also known for cutting out departments entirely and then hiring people to replace them as he saw problems crop up.

He was, however, an intelligent cost cutter, which too many people aren't. If he cut the 4th person, he'd likely give the other three a 15-20% raise. In his mind, he'd still saved between 40 and 55% of the other persons salary, and the remaining workers, while having more work, feel like they are being compensated for it. He hated working around the government, which he saw as an incompetent group of chimps. Were it not for that, he'd probably be an excellent CEO for Amtrak.

I'm suspect that were one to look at one specific moment in time, one could indeed find a brief point(s) where passenger trains made a small profit. But as a whole over the course of time, and pre-Amtrak, moving passengers by train (or any other mode for that matter) has not been profitable. The airlines collectively have barely broken even over the course of time, bus companies come and go and those that remain probably wouldn't remain without help, even if that help is only not having to pay the true value of their passage over our streets and highways.


Trains can be, and have been, profitable. Anything can be- you just charge people for it on a cost-plus basis. Before trains had competition, they probably were very profitable. They didn't need to charge competitive pricing, and in those days, people didn't need to move around so much. Going from New York to Chicago is a needed thing for business sometimes these days. A hundred years ago, the number of people who needed or even perceived a need, to do that were few and far between. There wasn't the belief that even relatively poor people should be able to travel a thousand miles if they wanted to.

Private trains can also be profitable. Auto-Train (the company, not the train) was reasonably profitable. They went out of business because they over-extended and were undercapitalized such that they couldn't handle the immediate costs of a couple of derailments. There are a variety of "land-cruise" trains that make profits, as well.

Offering trains as alternative transportation to, say, an airplane at a comparable price, however, can not inherently be profitable due to the subsidized nature of air and road travel. Were taxpayers not charged for road costs, and instead drivers were charged based upon the actual cost of their traversing the road they were driving on, and airlines not having the various subsidies they have and thus had to charge the actual cost of flying people from A to B, then trains too could be profitable.

People are generally paid by what value they add. So if you are an assembly line worker at an auto plant, you will be paid along the lines of what percentage of work you did in transforming a pile of raw materials into a much more valuable automobile. Talented white-collar managers and CEOs can add quite a bit of value. If a CEO of a large-ish corporation can see how to eliminate waste to help the company's bottom line to the tune of $15M per year, then what a bargain to pay him a one million dollar salary! CEOs having the vision, knowledge and iron will to make these kind of changes are rare, and are paid accordingly.


Talented managers make the company work. There are a lot of people working for companies that, were they fired, the company would continue to function well. If such a person exists, they should be fired. Most large companies are full of them. Especially profitable companies. Profits cover a wide variety of sins. The average company, inherently, does not look at costs when profits are high. In other cases, they would prefer not to. Take Exxon-Mobil. I looked at their balance sheet and did some digging on my own into them.

First of all, their profits last year were heavily under-stated. Not illegally- they were quite legal. But in accounting, there are a dozen places where you can decide to do things in a way that increases or decreases apparent income and profit. A lot of internet companies, looking to show profits on their balance sheets, choose all the increases. Most companies choose some one way, some the other, so it balances out. Exxon-Mobil chose all the profit decreasing methods they could. Had they gone with the most aggressive profit showing methods, their profits would have been about 20% higher last year. Had the chosen it in the middle, the way most companies do, it would have been about 12% higher.

Secondly, they have the most bloated corporate structure I have ever seen in my life. There are about 35 layers of management between the bottom-level white collars and the vice presidents that manage them. The spend about 12 billion dollars a year more than they have to on employment expenses. And I'd imagine that they really don't want those 12 billion to show up on their balance sheets, lest some Americans start a mass-lynching campaign.

Travelled: Broadway Limited (1), Lake Shore Limited (6), Capitol Limited (7), Empire Builder (1), Southwest Chief (2), Sunset Limited (1), California Zephyr (3), Coast Starlight (2), Silver Meteor (5), Silver Star (5), Silver Palm (2), Crescent (1), Cardinal (4), Auto Train (4), Pennsylvanian (2), Palmetto (1), Acela Express (1), Empire Service (1), Northeast Regional (11), Keystone Service (1) --- Total Miles: 50,144 --- Total Trains: 61
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#69 TVRM610

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 01:06 PM

OBS crews start at $15 an hour (on the jobs listing on amtraks website). Does anyone really believe that is too high? The grocery store around the corner from me is hiring casheirs at $9 an hour!

I personally would not call amtrak OBS staff "blue collar" at all. To compare a sleeper attendant to hotel maid is ridiculous. First of all, a sleeper attendant is the Maid, Bellman, Greeter, Tour Guide, and Room Service for everyone on his car ( I challenge any hotel management to try and ask there housekeepers to do all of the above for minnimum wage!)

They also have to have good communication skills, and a professional appearance. I feel like there is a certain type of person that works for amtrak, and they are highly skilled and worth every cent.

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Acela Express*, Cascades (Talgo) Service*, California Zephyr*, Capitol Limited*, Cardinal, Carolinian*, City of New Orleans*, Coast Starlight*, Crescent*, Downeaster, Empire Builder*, Illinois Zephyr*, Keystone Corridor*, Lake Shore Limited, Lincoln Service*, Maple Leaf*, NE Regional, Pacific Surfliner, Pennsylvanian, River Cities, San Joaquin,  Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Saluki, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle. 
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#70 sweet tea

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 01:40 PM

please forgive me if i'm working off bad information here -- almost everything i half-know about amtrak i've picked up from reading this site, so i may be wrong about this -- but it seems to me that the trouble with unions in OBS jobs isn't mostly about salaries.

i, at least, don't think the pay is unreasonable, or at least not unreasonably high. but my impression is that the unions cause two kinds of difficulty when it comes to flexibility:

1. intercraft flexibility. i don't see a good reason that OBS employees, assuming they've had the appropriate training and that there is not a safety issue, can't do more than one craft per trip. if the diner is slammed and the sleepers aren't busy, i don't see why the sleeper attendant can't help seat people, for instance. if the cafe attendant is due for a break, he or she should be relieved, so that passengers can continue to buy. of course, every employee should have adequate scheduled break time, etc., but for the time that they are scheduled to be working, they should be working if work is needed, and helping each other out. this does not seem crazy to me, and i think it would be useful to be flexible in this way.

2. firing flexibility. i take it from earlier discussions -- again, please forgive me if i'm wrong -- that it is difficult to get rid of bad employees who are in the union. that's nonsense. we've all met great employees on trains and lots of decent ones, but the bad ones drive away customers. everyone has a bad day from time to time, and no reasonable (i know, i know) manager will fire someone over a trifle, since trainging, etc., a new employee costs time and money. but sometimes it's not just a bad day, and a manager should be able to deal with that. there's no reason, for instance, that the coach attendant i had on multiple LSL trips should still be around.

if those two changes cost more money in salaries because good people cost more, then so be it. i believe they would save money and build ridership in the long run.

#71 jackal

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 03:34 PM

Changing OBS along a route would possibly reduce cost mildly. It would probably increase it in the event of late trains. In the end it would barely cut cost in total, while degrading the level of service incredibly. What makes Amtrak's long distance lateness tolerable are the OBS crews. I can enjoy the extra time on the train in the same level of luxury and comfort as the rest of the trip. If the OBS shut down when the crew went dead, it would be horrible.

Very good points in your post, and I find nothing you said to contain anything I disagree with.

I did want to point out, though, that I didn't advocate instituting hours-of-service laws for OBS staff, since they are not in a safety-sensitive position like the train crews are. If a train were delayed such that it were late to a staff change point, I don't see why they wouldn't continue to work and receive overtime pay until the staff change point.

FWIW, I think the points made by sweet tea in the last post are valid. I don't think OBS staff are necessarily overpaid, just that the union has negotiated some rather dumb stipulations meant only to protect the number of jobs and prevent cost-cutting in OBS staff. If the OBS workers' union were to dissolve tomorrow, I don't think Amtrak would or would be able to lower the pay much below the current start of $15 per hour, simply because of the reasons TVRM610 mentioned--they wouldn't be able to hire anyone to do that job for any less! But why can't we let free-market forces determine fair wages rather than a union's selfish attitude that demands to possibly artificially inflate the pay scales? (And with respect to meatpuff's comments on unions, perhaps my experience with a union has colored by view of unions, so maybe they're not all selfish and out there to fend only for themselves.)
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#72 TVRM610

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 04:56 PM

please forgive me if i'm working off bad information here -- almost everything i half-know about amtrak i've picked up from reading this site, so i may be wrong about this -- but it seems to me that the trouble with unions in OBS jobs isn't mostly about salaries.

i, at least, don't think the pay is unreasonable, or at least not unreasonably high. but my impression is that the unions cause two kinds of difficulty when it comes to flexibility:

1. intercraft flexibility. i don't see a good reason that OBS employees, assuming they've had the appropriate training and that there is not a safety issue, can't do more than one craft per trip. if the diner is slammed and the sleepers aren't busy, i don't see why the sleeper attendant can't help seat people, for instance. if the cafe attendant is due for a break, he or she should be relieved, so that passengers can continue to buy. of course, every employee should have adequate scheduled break time, etc., but for the time that they are scheduled to be working, they should be working if work is needed, and helping each other out. this does not seem crazy to me, and i think it would be useful to be flexible in this way.

2. firing flexibility. i take it from earlier discussions -- again, please forgive me if i'm wrong -- that it is difficult to get rid of bad employees who are in the union. that's nonsense. we've all met great employees on trains and lots of decent ones, but the bad ones drive away customers. everyone has a bad day from time to time, and no reasonable (i know, i know) manager will fire someone over a trifle, since trainging, etc., a new employee costs time and money. but sometimes it's not just a bad day, and a manager should be able to deal with that. there's no reason, for instance, that the coach attendant i had on multiple LSL trips should still be around.

if those two changes cost more money in salaries because good people cost more, then so be it. i believe they would save money and build ridership in the long run.


As for #1. I think that Amtrak has done that somewhat in the past. I think the problem is that as a practice this would be very difficult. And really only practical in a few instances. For example, a sleeper attendant has meals to deliver during meal times. And coach attendants aren't trained for cash handling, so if money were to go missing and there were multiple cashiers who do you blame etc. Now I agree with you, but I feel like many of the rules would be the same without unions as well, just as business practices.

#2 - This gets very tricky for me. Is amtrak transportation, or is it hospitality? The answer of course is its a unique blend of both. I am very picky about customer service when I'm in a hospitality environment, but for some reason I hold Amtrak to a different standard. I'm not sure if thats because I've travelled amtrak since i was a kid and expect a mix of attitudes or what. Again I feel like this is not a union issue as much as a company issue. I think Amtrak sees it as if your doing your job, it doesn't matter how friendly you are. But perhaps OBSgonefrieght will have more insight to company views on that regard.

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#73 GG-1

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 07:03 PM

Aloha

I am a moderator here and have seen several complaints about these threads so I want to suggest, Like I did in responding here that we step back and count to 10 each time we answer. Over my working career in an industry with unique needs just like Amtrak, I have witnessed, been involved with, both parts of the Labor/Management equations.

please forgive me if i'm working off bad information here -- almost everything i half-know about amtrak i've picked up from reading this site, so i may be wrong about this -- but it seems to me that the trouble with unions in OBS jobs isn't mostly about salaries.


Here is the most unknown truth about Unions. Unions first, stand for unity. This translates to Job security, and Working together. Please remember I said this "In a perfect world" Next is the salary issue, What is fair for one is fair for all (remember "perfect World")

i, at least, don't think the pay is unreasonable, or at least not unreasonably high. but my impression is that the unions cause two kinds of difficulty when it comes to flexibility:


I agree with you here, as if the wages were so off base, the negotiations would not have lasted so long.

1. intercraft flexibility. i don't see a good reason that OBS employees, assuming they've had the appropriate training and that there is not a safety issue, can't do more than one craft per trip. if the diner is slammed and the sleepers aren't busy, i don't see why the sleeper attendant can't help seat people, for instance. if the cafe attendant is due for a break, he or she should be relieved, so that passengers can continue to buy. of course, every employee should have adequate scheduled break time, etc., but for the time that they are scheduled to be working, they should be working if work is needed, and helping each other out. this does not seem crazy to me, and i think it would be useful to be flexible in this way.


Not being an OBS employee I am unable to speak for what inter craft flexibility is reasonable. But from my craft rules what we use for guidance is "How does this effect employment?" Does my employer want me to cross departments to avoid hiring someone else, then I don't do it. however if no one's job is at stake I help my co-workers.

2. firing flexibility. i take it from earlier discussions -- again, please forgive me if i'm wrong -- that it is difficult to get rid of bad employees who are in the union. that's nonsense. we've all met great employees on trains and lots of decent ones, but the bad ones drive away customers. everyone has a bad day from time to time, and no reasonable (i know, i know) manager will fire someone over a trifle, since trainging, etc., a new employee costs time and money. but sometimes it's not just a bad day, and a manager should be able to deal with that. there's no reason, for instance, that the coach attendant i had on multiple LSL trips should still be around.


No Union wants to support "Bad Workers" some times regulations get in the way, What the Union leadership must do, under their duty to represent, is insure fair hearings and decisions. I have been there, done that many times. Documentation is critical, This is why so many times on this forum we have said to write Amtrak about your experiences. Your comment about the coach attendant that should not be around might be a fair comment, but can you also see that there may be other factors, that you may not be aware of. Most passengers have little dealing with the coach attendant and very little understanding of their duties, including myself. That person is on duty I would assume from an hour before departure, and 30 min after arrival. How many can one service before overload occurs? I don't know. On an Over night assignment how many times should an attendants sleep be interrupted is reasonable? There are many times I have become frustrated, from interruptions, delaying what I am doing, preventing me from getting something done, that I am in the process of doing, as I receive the request to do what I was doing. (this is not a perfect world)

if those two changes cost more money in salaries because good people cost more, then so be it. i believe they would save money and build ridership in the long run.


Should Trains have a staff relief person, I don't know? But what must be found is the proper balance. As kids we all must have in the playground used the "seesaw", do you remember the results of an unbalanced play, NOT PRETTY There are always two sides to everything lets hope we can find the honesty and truth all the time.

ALOHA

Eric aka GG-1, Aloha, Mahalo = Thanks

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#74 AlanB

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 08:47 PM

please forgive me if i'm working off bad information here -- almost everything i half-know about amtrak i've picked up from reading this site, so i may be wrong about this -- but it seems to me that the trouble with unions in OBS jobs isn't mostly about salaries.

i, at least, don't think the pay is unreasonable, or at least not unreasonably high. but my impression is that the unions cause two kinds of difficulty when it comes to flexibility:

1. intercraft flexibility. i don't see a good reason that OBS employees, assuming they've had the appropriate training and that there is not a safety issue, can't do more than one craft per trip. if the diner is slammed and the sleepers aren't busy, i don't see why the sleeper attendant can't help seat people, for instance. if the cafe attendant is due for a break, he or she should be relieved, so that passengers can continue to buy. of course, every employee should have adequate scheduled break time, etc., but for the time that they are scheduled to be working, they should be working if work is needed, and helping each other out. this does not seem crazy to me, and i think it would be useful to be flexible in this way.

2. firing flexibility. i take it from earlier discussions -- again, please forgive me if i'm wrong -- that it is difficult to get rid of bad employees who are in the union. that's nonsense. we've all met great employees on trains and lots of decent ones, but the bad ones drive away customers. everyone has a bad day from time to time, and no reasonable (i know, i know) manager will fire someone over a trifle, since trainging, etc., a new employee costs time and money. but sometimes it's not just a bad day, and a manager should be able to deal with that. there's no reason, for instance, that the coach attendant i had on multiple LSL trips should still be around.

if those two changes cost more money in salaries because good people cost more, then so be it. i believe they would save money and build ridership in the long run.


As for #1. I think that Amtrak has done that somewhat in the past. I think the problem is that as a practice this would be very difficult. And really only practical in a few instances. For example, a sleeper attendant has meals to deliver during meal times. And coach attendants aren't trained for cash handling, so if money were to go missing and there were multiple cashiers who do you blame etc. Now I agree with you, but I feel like many of the rules would be the same without unions as well, just as business practices.

#2 - This gets very tricky for me. Is amtrak transportation, or is it hospitality? The answer of course is its a unique blend of both. I am very picky about customer service when I'm in a hospitality environment, but for some reason I hold Amtrak to a different standard. I'm not sure if thats because I've travelled amtrak since i was a kid and expect a mix of attitudes or what. Again I feel like this is not a union issue as much as a company issue. I think Amtrak sees it as if your doing your job, it doesn't matter how friendly you are. But perhaps OBSgonefrieght will have more insight to company views on that regard.


AFAIK, at least in the case of OBS, the intercraft flexibility that Amtrak is looking for is the ability to call Sam who normally works as a sleeping car attendant to work in the dining car because Johnny is either sick or on vacation/personal day. They aren't looking to have people work multiple jobs while on the train. As it stands right now, Amtrak has to pay workers on the extra board for not working just in case Amtrak actually needs them to take a shift one day, simply because they can't call up Sam to come work in the dining car. This is not the case on the Auto Train, which as noted operates under a different contract.

Turning to point #2, Eric (GG-1) and I have actually discussed this privately and I actually gained a new understanding of things. I'm still not sure that I'm happy with how things are, but at least I do understand that the union must fight to save the worker's job. Which brings us back to exactly what Eric and others have said, take names and report the bad workers. It's the only way to help Amtrak to weed out the bad apples.

But I have to say that it still infuriates me that 10 workers can show up for work and work very hard, while ignoring the one or two workers who have chosen to stand in the corner. So much for brotherhood. The 10 are working harder than they have to, thanks to the 2 selfish workers who have decided that they are better than their brothers.
Alan,

Take care and take trains!

#75 AlanB

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 09:01 PM

I'm suspect that were one to look at one specific moment in time, one could indeed find a brief point(s) where passenger trains made a small profit. But as a whole over the course of time, and pre-Amtrak, moving passengers by train (or any other mode for that matter) has not been profitable. The airlines collectively have barely broken even over the course of time, bus companies come and go and those that remain probably wouldn't remain without help, even if that help is only not having to pay the true value of their passage over our streets and highways.


Trains can be, and have been, profitable. Anything can be- you just charge people for it on a cost-plus basis. Before trains had competition, they probably were very profitable. They didn't need to charge competitive pricing, and in those days, people didn't need to move around so much. Going from New York to Chicago is a needed thing for business sometimes these days. A hundred years ago, the number of people who needed or even perceived a need, to do that were few and far between. There wasn't the belief that even relatively poor people should be able to travel a thousand miles if they wanted to.

Private trains can also be profitable. Auto-Train (the company, not the train) was reasonably profitable. They went out of business because they over-extended and were undercapitalized such that they couldn't handle the immediate costs of a couple of derailments. There are a variety of "land-cruise" trains that make profits, as well.

Offering trains as alternative transportation to, say, an airplane at a comparable price, however, can not inherently be profitable due to the subsidized nature of air and road travel. Were taxpayers not charged for road costs, and instead drivers were charged based upon the actual cost of their traversing the road they were driving on, and airlines not having the various subsidies they have and thus had to charge the actual cost of flying people from A to B, then trains too could be profitable.


Trains, as well as all forms of public transportation, are inherently uprofitable. Trains had little to no compeitition prior to WWII, neither the auto nor the airplane were favored forms of public transit at that point in time. And yet the freight Co's were already loosing serious money and conditions in service were starting to decline. Service only increased thanks to the outbreak of war, rationing, and troop movements.

After the war, ridership once again declined and raising fares didn't help that problem, so the trains continued to loose still more money. Monies that again, the freight RR's covered out of their profits on freight. We airfreight and trucks started cutting into those profits is when the freight Co's started bailing out on running pax service.

Or we could take a look at the NYC subways. For the first 5 years or so, the IRT had a monopoly and only one line. A line where ridership was so high that people were packed in like sardines. As more lines were added, and competition was introduced, profits fell off and eventually became non-existant. Now in fairness I will say that part of the problem was the fact that the IRT wasn't allowed to increase the fare for many years. But again running the trains proved unprofitable in the long run. And without funding from the City to help build the lines, the IRT would have never achieved any profits even during the golden years.
Alan,

Take care and take trains!

#76 Amtrak OBS Gone Freight

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 12:16 AM

AFAIK, at least in the case of OBS, the intercraft flexibility that Amtrak is looking for is the ability to call Sam who normally works as a sleeping car attendant to work in the dining car because Johnny is either sick or on vacation/personal day. They aren't looking to have people work multiple jobs while on the train. As it stands right now, Amtrak has to pay workers on the extra board for not working just in case Amtrak actually needs them to take a shift one day, simply because they can't call up Sam to come work in the dining car. This is not the case on the Auto Train, which as noted operates under a different contract.

Turning to point #2, Eric (GG-1) and I have actually discussed this privately and I actually gained a new understanding of things. I'm still not sure that I'm happy with how things are, but at least I do understand that the union must fight to save the worker's job. Which brings us back to exactly what Eric and others have said, take names and report the bad workers. It's the only way to help Amtrak to weed out the bad apples.

But I have to say that it still infuriates me that 10 workers can show up for work and work very hard, while ignoring the one or two workers who have chosen to stand in the corner. So much for brotherhood. The 10 are working harder than they have to, thanks to the 2 selfish workers who have decided that they are better than their brothers.


Aight... let's clarify a few things a little more in detail. When we speak of "intercraft flexibilty," the only places where that is attained is either on the extra board (when employees are qualified in multiple crafts which is encouraged and required for new employees after 2004) or in the case of "Auto Train's" portion in the OBS contract.
We'll use Alan's example of "Sam" here for illustration purposes. We'll establish him as an employee who was hired prior to 2004. He holds a "regular bulletined position" which has a regular set schedule of work days and rest days. It can be in the form of four days on and four days off or something similar depending on the train and the job structure. We'll make his regular a job which is in the sleepers, we'll have him hold the 9210 car sleeper on cycle number six within the eight man work cycle (the amount of employees needed to cover 9210 for eight days with four employees at home on the rest and four out on a trip in this case). HE IS NEVER CALLED for work! His schedule is set. He knows when he is supposed to come to work and what his off days are unless he is displaced by a senior employee. That is the only time he can be called is to notify him he is displaced. In other words his job duties are on train #92 for the Northbound trip and on train #97 for the Southbound return trip. He knows his duties (hopefully) as a sleeping car attendant and his report times at both ends. The extra board is responsible for filling "regular bulletined positions" which are open in the case of sickness, vacation, etc. The vast majority of extra board employees ARE cross-trained in several crafts allowing them to be used accordingly! Amtrak does not usually change these jobs around in transit except in very unusual circumstances. Now back to Sam. He decides to take the upcoming trip off for vacation. An extra board employee who is rested who also may have worked a trip as a waiter/waitress on their prior trip, will be called to fill Sam's job. Let's say a regular waiter takes their vacation at the same time for the same trip, and another extraboard employee is called to fill that job in the diner. Now let's say Sam's replacement doesn't show up or misses the train for some last minute reason. Amtrak DOES HAVE rights to move "that one" extraboard employee (because he does not hold a regular job) who is filling the job in the diner out of there and up into the sleeper (as long as they're qualified) to replace Sam's replacement so that the first class component is covered! It is more important than the diner job. Now with all that in mind, let's say the coach attendant in the rear who is holding that job as a "regular bulletined position" in the same job cycle as Sam's job (which is how the jobs are usually posted thus making that person part of Sam's regular crew) is in attendance and working this trip, Amtrak CANNOT REQUIRE them (though they can ask) to come up to sleeper and fill Sam's job because they hold a regular job! Hopefully I am potraying a good illustration here.

Now as of 2004 around October of that year if my memory serves me right, all new OBS employees have a new stipulation in the contract! It established what's known as a "utility worker position." A crew supply point such as LAX or MIA, can only create these jobs after all the regular and extraboard OBS positions have been filled in that crewbase. OBS employees hired prior to 2004 can opt in or opt out of working a utility workers position. If they chose to fill one, then they are bound by its requirements which allows Amtrak to intercraft them at any position on the train in the same trip (similar to Auto Train, but different). The get paid the amount of their highest craft attained for working that position. New OBS employees, however, (those hired after 2004... I am not sure about LSA direct hires, though) have to accept a utilty workers position should they be asked to fill one, and receive compensation under that craft which is a reduced rate! It is not bad for the old heads in OBS, but not that great for the new folks. But it was ratified. I personally think the union did a good job at covering the existing employees at the time, and I believe Amtrak was satisfied with that agreement overall. And new employees are made aware of this (hopefully) before they are hired. Anyway, enough of all that...

Now in regard to surely workers, etc. Just as Alan states in this posting, folks should take names of the bad apples when they encounter them. The union will not defend them forever. A little while before I left I witnessed a local chairman (who works as a sleepr TA) disciplining a coach attendant on one trip. He told them that "they needed to do their job and follow the rules!" and that "we're are not going to continue to cover for you to slack off. Amtrak has a business to run, too."
And as a matter of personal opinion, I didn't see a huge protection for one who doesn't work safe, follow the rules, slack off, or perform half a** work (at least not after a couple of times).

Anyway, in my closing remarks for this topic. I want to point out the fact that unions are a necessary evil in many industries with rail being one of them. It is true some of the unions need to get a little more with the times. But unless there was some drastic changes to take place, I feel the loss of the union would not be a good thing for a long period of time. So the idea of "busting the unions" I just cannot support as well as the "busting of management!" I have worked both sides in my past careers, so I see the potential issues which can become interesting. I no longer work at Amtrak. I work in the freight sector, now. And I see the need of the union there, too. They need to get with the times as well in many areas. I do, however, miss my OBS job at Amtrak in the dining car at some times. I am happy at the stabilty the Mr Kummant has seemed to bring to Amtrak in this last year or so. The company was so close to a major "partial shutdown" IMHO, it wasn't funny! I took a trip with my friend here on the boards (trainboy3250), and I was very happy with some of the changes. Some more need to be made (mainly restore some of the loss jobs due to the SDS), but overall everything seemed more stable on the front line and my former fellow co-workers seemed to be a good spirits compared to the couple years earlier. I still would like to see management make a bigger presence out on the trains. That is where the product is and what the customers ultimately pay for. It is not in their offices! They need to be in the stations and on the trains more than they are. That would boost a big majority of the passengers' views of Amtrak IMO.
OBS gone freight....

#77 jackal

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 02:41 AM

But from my craft rules what we use for guidance is "How does this effect employment?" Does my employer want me to cross departments to avoid hiring someone else, then I don't do it. however if no one's job is at stake I help my co-workers.


With all due respect, this is exactly my point. If you are able to do both jobs, and if it doesn't harm you to do both jobs, why should the company be forced to not allow you do both jobs and save the extra staffing costs? It's this mentality I can't agree with.

Maybe I wasn't part of the union long enough to fully internalize the concepts of brotherhood and unity, but although I can appreciate wanting to keep your coworkers from being laid off, especially in a business like Amtrak that is not wildly profitable, I think unions and union members need to accept that cost-cutting--when done wisely--is a fact of life and shouldn't fight it with arbitrary rules.

As far as the complaints about this thread, I know I'm new here and don't fully understand the culture here, but what sort of things have been said that have caused complaints? Most other railfan boards I've been on are far harsher than this and quickly degenerate into personal attacks. So far, I haven't seen any of that--simply vigorous debate, which I think is a healthy thing, but all parties here have maintained the highest respect for other people and points of view. (And I'm no stranger to Internet boards, as AlanB and the_traveller can attest; on that other forum, I've seen several intense debates, but all of the moderators and participants agreed that it was good as long as it was kept from becoming personal.) Please, though, enlighten me if that's not the case over here.

Edited by jackal, 14 February 2008 - 02:43 AM.

Amtrak trains traveled: Acela Express, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Coast Starlight (and used to live next to its tracks!), Crescent, Empire Builder, Keystone, Northeast Regional, Pacific Surfliner, Pennsylvanian, San Joaquins...total mileage: 8,354 [massively out-of-date; to be updated soon!]
Other major trains traveled: Alaska Railroad (former TY&E employee), SNCF TGV (Paris-Poitiers, Paris-Dijon-Paris @300kph/187mph!) and TER (Beaune-Dijon), VR Sibelius (Helsinki-St. Petersburg-Helsinki), DB ICE (Stuttgart-Frankfurt Airport), Vietnam Railways Reunification Express (Hanoi-Hue-Saigon), CountryLink North Coast Line XPT (Sydney-Casino), Queensland Rail Sunlander (Brisbane-Proserpine-Cairns), Machu Picchu Train (Ollantaytambo-MP) subways/light rail/commuter rail/any other rail every place I can!
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#78 GG-1

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 05:43 AM

But from my craft rules what we use for guidance is "How does this effect employment?" Does my employer want me to cross departments to avoid hiring someone else, then I don't do it. however if no one's job is at stake I help my co-workers.


With all due respect, this is exactly my point. If you are able to do both jobs, and if it doesn't harm you to do both jobs, why should the company be forced to not allow you do both jobs and save the extra staffing costs? It's this mentality I can't agree with.

I understand what you said, but what you missed from my comment was the balance part. If the Company is trying to squeeze the worker for a few dollars by pushing for craft overlap why? If his request is because there is no way the additional worker is affordable then the request is honored. If it was ever even asked. The labor side of business rarely receives bonuses when the business does well, but if there are difficulties they are the first, and sometimes the only ones asked, or forced to adjust. I can think of several recent contract re-negotiations where the Labor side accepted cuts in the interest of the company survivability which was immediately bestowed on upper management. The stockholders received their usual dividend so managements boost was clearly stolen (in my mind) by management misrepresentation. My food cost go up my housing cost go up, etc. but I am lucky to improve my financial position by even 40 dollars a week when some manager paid over a million gets 100,000... thats why sometimes unions get difficult.

Maybe I wasn't part of the union long enough to fully internalize the concepts of brotherhood and unity, but although I can appreciate wanting to keep your coworkers from being laid off, especially in a business like Amtrak that is not wildly profitable, I think unions and union members need to accept that cost-cutting--when done wisely--is a fact of life and shouldn't fight it with arbitrary rules.

Shouldn't fight it , ONLY if I am treated equally and honestly, until such time as the company can respect labor can they not fight. American business has made one tragic error, Labor is treated as a liability not an asset. This one imbalance is the key.

As far as the complaints about this thread, I know I'm new here and don't fully understand the culture here, but what sort of things have been said that have caused complaints? Most other railfan boards I've been on are far harsher than this and quickly degenerate into personal attacks. So far, I haven't seen any of that--simply vigorous debate, which I think is a healthy thing, but all parties here have maintained the highest respect for other people and points of view. (And I'm no stranger to Internet boards, as AlanB and the_traveller can attest; on that other forum, I've seen several intense debates, but all of the moderators and participants agreed that it was good as long as it was kept from becoming personal.) Please, though, enlighten me if that's not the case over here.

You are very correct this forum participants are very respectful, even on "HOT" debates but there have been some times that someone crossed the line and that was dealt with privately. I added my concern in this thread only because I was seeing a general escalation, including myself, that in my opinion was of concern. Unions, Politics, religion all involve strong feelings, we can and should debate as much as we can but sometimes reflection of thought and feelings must also be accounted for. I probably am not saying this well, and at moment I am tired, tomorrow, oh today, I have an unrehearsed live show to deliver.

Aloha and Mahalo

Eric aka GG-1, Aloha, Mahalo = Thanks

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#79 frj1983

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 08:46 AM

AFAIK, at least in the case of OBS, the intercraft flexibility that Amtrak is looking for is the ability to call Sam who normally works as a sleeping car attendant to work in the dining car because Johnny is either sick or on vacation/personal day. They aren't looking to have people work multiple jobs while on the train. As it stands right now, Amtrak has to pay workers on the extra board for not working just in case Amtrak actually needs them to take a shift one day, simply because they can't call up Sam to come work in the dining car. This is not the case on the Auto Train, which as noted operates under a different contract.

Turning to point #2, Eric (GG-1) and I have actually discussed this privately and I actually gained a new understanding of things. I'm still not sure that I'm happy with how things are, but at least I do understand that the union must fight to save the worker's job. Which brings us back to exactly what Eric and others have said, take names and report the bad workers. It's the only way to help Amtrak to weed out the bad apples.

But I have to say that it still infuriates me that 10 workers can show up for work and work very hard, while ignoring the one or two workers who have chosen to stand in the corner. So much for brotherhood. The 10 are working harder than they have to, thanks to the 2 selfish workers who have decided that they are better than their brothers.


Aight... let's clarify a few things a little more in detail. When we speak of "intercraft flexibilty," the only places where that is attained is either on the extra board (when employees are qualified in multiple crafts which is encouraged and required for new employees after 2004) or in the case of "Auto Train's" portion in the OBS contract.
We'll use Alan's example of "Sam" here for illustration purposes. We'll establish him as an employee who was hired prior to 2004. He holds a "regular bulletined position" which has a regular set schedule of work days and rest days. It can be in the form of four days on and four days off or something similar depending on the train and the job structure. We'll make his regular a job which is in the sleepers, we'll have him hold the 9210 car sleeper on cycle number six within the eight man work cycle (the amount of employees needed to cover 9210 for eight days with four employees at home on the rest and four out on a trip in this case). HE IS NEVER CALLED for work! His schedule is set. He knows when he is supposed to come to work and what his off days are unless he is displaced by a senior employee. That is the only time he can be called is to notify him he is displaced. In other words his job duties are on train #92 for the Northbound trip and on train #97 for the Southbound return trip. He knows his duties (hopefully) as a sleeping car attendant and his report times at both ends. The extra board is responsible for filling "regular bulletined positions" which are open in the case of sickness, vacation, etc. The vast majority of extra board employees ARE cross-trained in several crafts allowing them to be used accordingly! Amtrak does not usually change these jobs around in transit except in very unusual circumstances. Now back to Sam. He decides to take the upcoming trip off for vacation. An extra board employee who is rested who also may have worked a trip as a waiter/waitress on their prior trip, will be called to fill Sam's job. Let's say a regular waiter takes their vacation at the same time for the same trip, and another extraboard employee is called to fill that job in the diner. Now let's say Sam's replacement doesn't show up or misses the train for some last minute reason. Amtrak DOES HAVE rights to move "that one" extraboard employee (because he does not hold a regular job) who is filling the job in the diner out of there and up into the sleeper (as long as they're qualified) to replace Sam's replacement so that the first class component is covered! It is more important than the diner job. Now with all that in mind, let's say the coach attendant in the rear who is holding that job as a "regular bulletined position" in the same job cycle as Sam's job (which is how the jobs are usually posted thus making that person part of Sam's regular crew) is in attendance and working this trip, Amtrak CANNOT REQUIRE them (though they can ask) to come up to sleeper and fill Sam's job because they hold a regular job! Hopefully I am potraying a good illustration here.

Now as of 2004 around October of that year if my memory serves me right, all new OBS employees have a new stipulation in the contract! It established what's known as a "utility worker position." A crew supply point such as LAX or MIA, can only create these jobs after all the regular and extraboard OBS positions have been filled in that crewbase. OBS employees hired prior to 2004 can opt in or opt out of working a utility workers position. If they chose to fill one, then they are bound by its requirements which allows Amtrak to intercraft them at any position on the train in the same trip (similar to Auto Train, but different). The get paid the amount of their highest craft attained for working that position. New OBS employees, however, (those hired after 2004... I am not sure about LSA direct hires, though) have to accept a utilty workers position should they be asked to fill one, and receive compensation under that craft which is a reduced rate! It is not bad for the old heads in OBS, but not that great for the new folks. But it was ratified. I personally think the union did a good job at covering the existing employees at the time, and I believe Amtrak was satisfied with that agreement overall. And new employees are made aware of this (hopefully) before they are hired. Anyway, enough of all that...

Now in regard to surely workers, etc. Just as Alan states in this posting, folks should take names of the bad apples when they encounter them. The union will not defend them forever. A little while before I left I witnessed a local chairman (who works as a sleepr TA) disciplining a coach attendant on one trip. He told them that "they needed to do their job and follow the rules!" and that "we're are not going to continue to cover for you to slack off. Amtrak has a business to run, too."
And as a matter of personal opinion, I didn't see a huge protection for one who doesn't work safe, follow the rules, slack off, or perform half a** work (at least not after a couple of times).

Anyway, in my closing remarks for this topic. I want to point out the fact that unions are a necessary evil in many industries with rail being one of them. It is true some of the unions need to get a little more with the times. But unless there was some drastic changes to take place, I feel the loss of the union would not be a good thing for a long period of time. So the idea of "busting the unions" I just cannot support as well as the "busting of management!" I have worked both sides in my past careers, so I see the potential issues which can become interesting. I no longer work at Amtrak. I work in the freight sector, now. And I see the need of the union there, too. They need to get with the times as well in many areas. I do, however, miss my OBS job at Amtrak in the dining car at some times. I am happy at the stabilty the Mr Kummant has seemed to bring to Amtrak in this last year or so. The company was so close to a major "partial shutdown" IMHO, it wasn't funny! I took a trip with my friend here on the boards (trainboy3250), and I was very happy with some of the changes. Some more need to be made (mainly restore some of the loss jobs due to the SDS), but overall everything seemed more stable on the front line and my former fellow co-workers seemed to be a good spirits compared to the couple years earlier. I still would like to see management make a bigger presence out on the trains. That is where the product is and what the customers ultimately pay for. It is not in their offices! They need to be in the stations and on the trains more than they are. That would boost a big majority of the passengers' views of Amtrak IMO.
OBS gone freight....


Wow,

Thanks for explaining all that OBS...it gives me a little to think about and now I must go and get some tylenol because after reading this entire string, I have a "union type" headache!! Just some humor to lighten things up!!



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