WASHINGTON – Amtrak unions on Wednesday called off a threatened one-day strike that could have disrupted service Friday for the 16,000 riders on the MARC Penn line.
The unions agreed to delay any action until Oct. 20, but still held out the possibility of a strike if Congress does not fully fund Amtrak’s $1.8 billion funding request for fiscal 2004.
Before the agreement, MARC officials were making other plans for the 16,000 daily passengers on the Penn line, which is operated by Amtrak and runs on Amtrak lines between Washington’s Union Station and Perryville.
The state commuter rail system’s Brunswick and Camden lines, which carry a total of about 9,000 riders a day, are operated by CSX and would not have been affected by an Amtrak strike.
“Obviously, we’ve been watching this situation . . . all week long,” said Richard Scher, spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration.
Contingency plans included adding cars to the Camden line between Baltimore and Washington and providing shuttle buses to carry Penn line riders.
Scher said that should there be a strike later this month, the plan to accommodate Penn line riders may change. He said passengers can sign up for e-mail alerts on the Maryland Transit Administration’s Web site.
“I think it’s safe to assume that we will do as much as we can in as many different ways as we can to accommodate Penn line travelers,” Scher said.
The MARC planning began after six labor unions that represent Amtrak workers threatened a one-day “political protest” over funding for the national passenger rail service. The unions were concerned that anything less than the $1.8 billion requested by Amtrak CEO David L. Gunn would mean unsafe railways and the possibility of Amtrak going out of business.
“The Bush administration proposed $900 million. That’s what the House passed. The Senate passed $1.3 billion,” said Jim Gannon, director of communications for the Transportation Workers Union of America.
Amtrak officials went to court Wednesday to block the strike, arguing that workers are prohibited from striking under the Railway Labor Act. Despite their claim that it was a protest, the planned action by the workers was really a strike for better pay, Amtrak argued.
But U.S. District Judge James Robertson disagreed.
“The beef here is with Congress,” Robertson said. “I’m not persuaded that the RLA is indeed a legislative no-strike clause.”
Robertson said he was reluctant to issue a ruling, however, noting that even if he did find grounds to grant a temporary injunction against the strike, it would have only lasted five days.
Instead, Amtrak and union attorneys conferred and agreed to come back to court on Oct. 20 for a preliminary injunction hearing, with no strike between now and then.
“The most important thing for us is to bring this issue to the floor,” said Richard Edelman, lead attorney for the Transportation Workers Union of America. “We think we’ve furthered that good today.”