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Amtrak’s Dedicated Workforce Deserves Better

By Larry I. Willis

Amtrak employees and supporters protest Amtrak’s decision to shut down its Riverside call center during a rally outside the City Hall in Riverside on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. Amtrak is working on relocation options for some 550 employees affected by the imminent closure of a Riverside call center. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Amtrak should be proud to have such a dedicated workforce. Day in and day out, the carrier’s frontline workers provide high-quality customer service to passengers across the country. And, year after year, Amtrak employees and their unions have walked the halls of Congress, advocating for the carrier and helping to secure the federal support Amtrak needs and deserves.

But yesterday, instead of standing with Amtrak to help grow passenger rail in this country, Amtrak employees in Riverside, California — along with politicians and local activists — had something more pressing to attend to. They took to the streets in front of City Hall to defend their jobs. You see, last month, Amtrak announced it was closing its call center in Riverside — and effectively eliminating 550 jobs in January.

Amtrak claims the decision was made because of decreased call volumes, but the carrier’s actions paint a different picture, and one that leaves more questions than answers.

In the months leading up to the announcement to close its Riverside call center, Amtrak shifted its resources to an overflow call center in Florida. Instead of being directly employed by Amtrak, the workers in Florida are employed by Teleperformance, a non-union company that pays half of what Riverside workers earn with no health and pension benefits. Some of Amtrak’s Riverside employees were asked by the company to train workers in Florida. When Riverside workers and their union raised questions about fair competition and outsourcing, they were told they had nothing to worry about.

The blows don’t end there. Amtrak says it is offering its Riverside employees the chance to relocate to another call center in Philadelphia, but Riverside employees have been given just six short weeks to make serious decisions about their futures – and in the middle of the holidays. These are men and women who, because of the living wages and decent benefits secured by a union contract, are raising families in Riverside. They have houses with mortgages, children in school, and elderly relatives to care for. Picking up and moving across the country just isn’t that simple.

The successes Amtrak has enjoyed — including record ridership, overwhelming public support, and increased revenue at the fare box — would not be possible without the thousands of dedicated employees who ensure customers are happy and operations run smoothly. From dispatchers, conductors, and call center workers to ticket agents and on-board food and beverage personnel, Amtrak’s dedicated employees have stuck with the carrier through thick and thin. When resources have been limited and funding uncertain, Amtrak’s workforce has gotten the job done, ensuring passengers reach their destinations safely and comfortably.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Amtrak has pursued strategies that resulted in job cuts and reduced service for customers. Earlier this year, the carrier laid off ticket agents and closed dozens of ticket counters across the country. Months later, Amtrak eliminated dining-car service on some of its most popular long-distance trains, the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited, further slashing jobs and threatening the future of those lines. And we know that food service operations throughout the Amtrak system might be next on the outsourcing list.

Amtrak may claim its decisions are based on numbers, but it sure looks like this carrier is trying to undermine unions and outsource good jobs to low-wage workers. Frankly, Amtrak’s workforce deserves better.

Riverside call center workers have provided quality customer service to Amtrak’s growing customer base for 25 years, contributing to the carrier’s success, and providing a level of service Amtrak’s customers have come to know and rely on. One of Amtrak’s own Riverside call center workers said it best when he wrote, “We’ve given our all to Amtrak. Isn’t it time Amtrak give us a little respect, dignity, and transparency in return?”

 

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