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Replying to Amtrak Privatization Scenario


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frj1983

Posted 14 February 2008 - 08:46 AM

[quote name='Amtrak OBS Gone Freight' post='98970' date='Wed, Feb 13, 2008, 09:16 PM'][quote name='AlanB' post='98928' date='Wed, Feb 13, 2008, 08:47 PM']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.[/quote]

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....
[/quote]

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!!

GG-1

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

jackal

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.

Amtrak OBS Gone Freight

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....

AlanB

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.

AlanB

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.

GG-1

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

TVRM610

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.

jackal

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.)

sweet tea

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.

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