Amtrak’s just-instituted practice of providing sleeping car customers, beginning with the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited, with “contemporary and fresh dining choices” is “nothing more than a cold snack in a cardboard box being delivered to passengers in their rooms,” the Amtrak Service Workers Council (ASWC) of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) announced last week. “Riders are paying close to $1,000 a ticket, only to be fed yogurt and sandwiches?”
TWU ASWC, UNITE-HERE (which represents workers throughout the U.S. and Canada who work in the hotel, gaming, food service, airport, textile, manufacturing, distribution, laundry, and transportation industries) and TCU-IAM (Transportation Communications International Union-International Association of Machinists) said seven TWU-represented chefs received furlough letters with as little as nine-day notice, “giving them a little more than a week to make a major life decision. The move also threatens jobs and pensions from coast-to-coast.”
“Due to this sudden decision, our members will be forced out of work, and some will be faced with the difficult decision of whether to uproot their lives, to relocate and exercise their seniority to replace ASWC members working other routes,” the unions said in a joint statement. “For example, there are ASWC members with 30 years of service living on the East Coast who may be forced to move to Seattle or Chicago just to complete the career they started decades ago. Therefore, it is certain that closing dining cars on these routes will have immediate and ripple effects on Amtrak workers across the country, not only those employed on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited lines.”
“We have been told by our members that passengers already are expressing their dissatisfaction with the upcoming service and meal plan changes,” the unions said. “Our members are on the frontlines, and they know that passengers view the current dining service as part of the experience of riding a train through the country along a long-distance route. Our members are proud to provide this service and care about its quality because they understand that it contributes to passengers’ experience. Maintaining the current high-quality service is important to attracting passengers to Amtrak, and it’s central to our members’ livelihoods.
“We demand Amtrak President Richard Anderson reverse his decision and stop these cuts. We pledge to do everything in our power to preserve these jobs and the unique Amtrak dining experience.”
Amtrak responded to Railway Age’s request for comment with the following statement:
“We are undertaking changes on the dining service to provide higher quality food with a modern service pattern that allows people to order what they want and have it provided when they want. People who want to dine in a communal way can keep that. People who want privacy or to work on their laptops while they’re dining, can dine in that way. We’re putting the decision-making into our customer’s hands, vs. dictating to our customers how they have to accept their food.
“Amtrak sleeping car customers have always had the ability to choose to be served in their bedrooms and roomettes, and this model makes that choice easier by offering a selection of meals that are made fresh and are readily enjoyed by customers in their sleeping compartments or at tables in a private area only for sleeping car customers. These food service cars were infrequently used by coach customers.
“A hot meal option will be coming at a future date as we are gathering feedback from our customers to understand preferences.”