Amtrak's employees have scheduled a day of rallies and informational picketing to protest policies on the railroad they say show Amtrak is ''courting a national strike."
Representatives of Amtrak's 25,000 employees say they will hold rallies outside eight Amtrak stations and will field pickets outside the doors of 17 others on Friday.The demonstrations, coordinated by the Railway Labor Executives' Association in Washington, are designed to bring public pressure to bear on Amtrak, which was created by Congress to takeover all intercity rail passenger service in the country in the wake of the industry's dire financial status last decade.
According to an announcement from RLEA, "The worker's message: Amtrak is courting a national strike. Amtrak's workers don't want to strike, but they may have no choice.
"The workers are saying, 'We've had enough' of the substandard wages, unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, contracting out and outright union- busting," the RLEA statement said.
Amtrak has traditionally had relatively good relations with its workers, although continuing drives by the Reagan administration to cut Amtrak's federal subsidies have pushed the carrier to seek ways of reducing its labor costs.
The railroad and the 16 unions have been negotiating over terms of a new agreement since April 1988, and have agreed to hire a mediator to try and work out their differences.
One issue that has sparked union criticism is Amtrak's plan to hire non- union contract workers to man reservations telephone lines during peak periods.
While Amtrak maintains that no existing workers will lose their jobs as a result, the Transportation Communications Union has been resisting the proposal.
Also, in recent months, Amtrak has asked to be taken out of the Federal Employers' Liability Act, which governs on-the-job injuries in the rail industry, and to be included under the Workmen's Compensation program that covers most other employees.
The rail industry has long maintained that it pays excessive fees under the act. The unions have fought hard on Capitol Hill to maintain the current system.
Amtrak's bid to escape from the act found surprising support in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, although it was defeated.