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Note to House GOP: They Don’t Just Sell You Food

By Ed Wytkind

Things happen on Amtrak trains.  And when they do, no one wants unqualified front-line workers to be first-responders.

Unfortunately, if Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) and some of her allies in the House have their way, fly-by-night contractors could replace Amtrak food and beverage service employees who are trained for all emergencies.  Yes these House members think we should outsource this food and beverage service to the lowest bidder, regardless of the consequences.

But the Schmidt proposal ignores two important realities:  these are good middle-class jobs with pensions, and these workers are schooled in rail safety rules and know what it takes to respond to an on-board incident.

Replacing them would be a bad idea all the way around.  As Dwayne Bateman, a 35-year Amtrak employee, told the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today in his written testimony on the subject:  “The first job of every Amtrak worker is safety.  Based on what I hear, there appears to be a lack of understanding of what we actually do on the job.”  Bateman explained that unlike waiters or food preparers, these Amtrak workers are trained on how to help during situations ranging from a derailment to a medical emergency to a security problem.  Fast food workers just don’t possess the same qualifications.

Workers like Bateman were on hand to pop out windows on the auto train in Crescent City, Fla., in 2002, and usher passengers to safety during a derailment.  A year earlier the California Zephyr  derailed and food and beverage service workers helped move passengers from under overturned coaches and provide them with medical assistance until medical and fire units arrived.

If a passenger needs a defibrillator, these onboard workers are there to use it.  If a disabled passenger needs assistance, they know what to do.  And if there is a bomb threat or the train needs to be evacuated for any reason, they have been trained specifically for such events.  In fact, they must repeat emergency preparedness training every two years otherwise they can’t report for work.  I’m sure McDonald’s or Subway has similar training programs.  And if you believe that, I’ll show you a national passenger railroad in the world that operates without government support.

A final point.  Buried in this proposal is a “hold harmless” measure for the private sector company that allegedly can provide better service for less money.  The dirty little secret that Rep. Schmidt and her allies fail to reveal is that if this legislation became law a winning bidder that loses money will be made whole by the taxpayer.  Talk about corporate welfare.

Time to stop micromanaging Amtrak and demonizing its workers.  Congress should let Amtrak run its business and stop forcing unwanted outsourcing mandates on the company and its workforce.

These skilled Amtrak workers do much more than sell you food.

-@EdWytkind

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