TCU National President Artie Maratea testified before the House Railroads, Pipelines & HazMat Subcommittee to discuss Amtrak’s Response to COVID-19. He spoke regarding the ongoing challenges TCU members face on the job and the dire need for adequate funding to provide the much-needed employee protections.
“I’m here on behalf of Amtrak workers to urge Congress and President Trump to act now to preserve our nation’s railroad, protect Amtrak workers from getting furloughed, and reauthorize the extension and expansion of RUI benefits so that thousands of railroaders can continue to put food on the table,” said President Maratea.
“This House of Representatives already passed their FY21 THUD bill which included $10 billion in operating, capital, and emergency response grants for Amtrak, and a requirement to maintain the workforce and route frequencies. On behalf of Amtrak workers, I call on the Senate to pass the House bill, and for President Trump to sign it today.”
President Maratea continued on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the transportation workforce:
“The COVID crisis has been a nightmare for all of us, but particularly for the transportation sector. That’s why TCU has been outspoken about the size of the aid Amtrak would need early on.
Our Members are frontline transportation workers that have been coming into work day-after-day during the pandemic, at great risk to themselves and their families. Many have contracted the virus…some have died. Our people have sacrificed, and now they’re faced with losing their jobs come October 1st. These people need action, and they need it now.”
President Maratea addressed the additional Unemployment Insurance payments that is left out of the CARES act and Trump’s Executive Orders, a $300 additional payment is included in the recently released Senate stimulus plan but that plan fails to address the needs of the Transportation sector including Amtrak.
“Unfortunately, President Trump’s memo does nothing for railroaders as it fails to include them in the expanded benefit…It doesn’t even mention Railroad Unemployment Insurance (RUI).”
President Maratea further stressed: “And to make matters worse, unlike every other Unemployment Insurance program in this country, Railroad Unemployment is unique since it is the only one subject to budget sequestration.
This means that, not only will furloughed railroaders NOT receive the expanded benefits, but their regular RUI checks will be reduced by 6%. This is unfair, and Congress should fix this today.
Fortunately, this House of Representatives has, once again, already paved the way: The HEROES Act included both an extension and expansion of RUI, as well as removing it from sequestration.”
Jim Mathews, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Rail Passengers Association, also testified before the committee. His testimony covered the challenges this once-in-a-generation pandemic poses for America’s rail passengers, and the consequences governmental inaction poses to the cities, towns, and rural communities connected by the intercity rail network.
Mathews explained, “It’s worth taking time to be explicit about what we mean when we say Amtrak is an essential service to the communities it connects. To understand, you have to look at the dearth of transportation options faced by rural and small-town Americans. Over 62 million people live in so-called ‘Flyover Country,’ a quarter of whom are veterans, another quarter are senior citizens over the age 65. Intercity rail plays an outsized role in these communities, with almost one-fifth of Amtrak’s passengers traveling to or from a rural station with no access to air service.”
“…while travel demand is down broadly, coronavirus has actually made these passenger rail services more necessary for certain segments of the population.
Perhaps one of the more significant statistics is that during the COVID Period, Amtrak’s National Network of long-distance intercity passenger routes has contributed 45 percent of Amtrak’s revenues, compared with 21 percent a year ago. Moreover, the so-called “money-losing long-distance routes” have contributed the largest single share of revenues in every month since March.
Make no mistake: these trains are essential to the communities they serve. Congress didn’t let the Federal Highway Administration close highways four days out of seven when gas tax revenues flatlined, and it shouldn’t stand by and allow Amtrak to introduce 3x service to hundreds of communities across the U.S.”
Matthews concluded, “Amtrak is a taxpayer-supported public service. Its object is not profit, but to serve the Nation. It cannot fulfill its mandate by cutting service for half the country during one of the most severe economic crises our nation has experienced and during a pandemic that has made air travel a perilous gamble for millions of Americans.”
Click here to read the full written testimony submitted by TCU President Artie Maratea.
Click here to watch the full video of the hearing.