Amtrak workers protest outside Penn Station over possible layoffs
Amtrak workers and union leaders protested outside Penn Station on Tuesday over what they said were a possible 1,700 layoffs.
The anticipated job cutbacks target trained chefs toiling in the food-preparation and service department at Amtrak, as the railroad looks to outsource the work, according to the labor unions that represent the service employees.
The roughly 100 people in attendance at the rally on the steps of the James Farley Post Office at West 31st Street and Eighth Avenue blasted Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, holding up signs depicting him as a robber baron.
“We have a boss at Amtrak named Anderson who is engaged in a slash-and-burn management plan,” Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen said. “He’s looking to dump 1,700 workers who provide Amtrak riders a vital service — hot food service — that they pay dearly for.
“We’re here to fight, to defend our jobs, and not only that, but it’s really important to defend the service that Amtrak riders deserve.”
Samuelsen called the projected layoffs “the beginning,” telling The Post, “And it’s not like Anderson is lowering the prices for Amtrak.”
John Feltz, the Rail Division director of the Transport Workers Union of America , said the workers whose jobs are in jeopardy are “chefs trained at the Culinary Institute to prepare meals.
“It’s a travelling restaurant, and they want to do away with their jobs,” Feltz told The Post, noting that the food-service workers aboard Amtrak’s long-distance trains are also trained in duties of first responders involving evacuation and medical emergencies.
In June, Amtrak nixed dining-car service on the long-distance Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited trains, replacing the freshly prepared meals with pre-packaged foods served in a balsa wood container.
Before the change, Feltz said, customers on these trains – who pay between $650 and $1,200 a ticket – would get meal options like “in a restaurant.”
“Eggs any style you wanted, ham, bacon, French toast” for breakfast and for dinner and lunch, “steak, hamburgers, pasta, anything,” Feltz said.
Meals on those trains now include: sliced fruit, a blueberry muffin, yogurt and a quinoa bar for breakfast and braised beef short rib in a red wine sauce, a vegan wrap, or a chicken Caesar salad all served with an antipasto plate and dessert for lunch and dinner.
At the rally, union members held up signs critical of the boxed meals that said: “Amtrak is serving its riders and workers a total SH*T SANDWICH.”
Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement: “We are undertaking changes with the dining service to provide higher-quality food with a contemporary style of service. Sleeping car customers on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited can now dine on fresh food choices, including a hot option.
“Our continued success depends on increasing customer satisfaction, improving efficiency and costs. This contemporary style of service has been well received by customers, with meals of their choice and at times they choose.”
Abrams said that as a result of the changes in the dining option, a total of 14 chef positions have been eliminated, including seven jobs based in Washington, DC, and seven in New York.
“At this time, all who have sought a new position at Amtrak has landed one. We will continue to evaluate impacts to determine staffing levels,” Abrams said.