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The Hill–Union Defends Amtrak Concession Workers

By Admin
[By Keith Laing of The Hill]
A prominent transportation union is defending concession workers on Amtrak after House Republicans sharply criticized the national passenger railway’s food and beverage service in a hearing this week.

AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said Amtrak workers do “much more than sell you food.

“Things happen on Amtrak trains,” he said in a blog post on the union’s website. “And when they do, no one wants unqualified front-line workers to be first-responders.”

Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee argued on Thursday that Amtrak was losing too much money on its concession services.

“It costs passengers $9.50 to buy a cheeseburger on Amtrak, but the cost to taxpayers is $16.15,” Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said after the hearing. “Riders pay $2.00 for a Pepsi, but each of these sodas costs the U.S. Treasury $3.40.”

The transportation committee was debating a bill sponsored by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) that would require Amtrak to contract with private companies to provide cheaper concession services. The measure, H.R. 3362, has been dubbed the “Amtrak Food and Beverage Service Savings Act.”

Mica said Thursday that the legislation was necessary because Amtrak lost $833 million on purchasing food and drinks to sell to passengers on its trains. He called the sum a “staggering” amount considering federal law requires the agency to break even on serving concessions.

Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman defended the agency’s food service management at the hearing.

“Part of what attracts people to Amtrak services is the availability of food, and the manner in which it is offered,” Boardman said. “If we were to eliminate food and beverage services, we would actually lose more money, because of the loss in associated ticket revenue.”

Wytkind argued that passengers would lose even more than their ability to purchase a meal if food was not serviced on their Amtrak trips.

“If a passenger needs a defibrillator, these onboard workers are there to use it,” he wrote. “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.”

Wytkind said it was time for lawmakers 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,” he said.

The bill to privatize Amtrak’s concession services has attracted six cosponsors: Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) .

The text of the bill can be read here.