Dozens of Amtrak employees and their supporters rallied in front of South Station Monday morning to protest changes to the rail company’s dining service, and the possible outsourcing of 1,700 union food and beverage jobs.
The demonstration was the latest in a series of actions across the country denouncing reductions in Amtrak meal service and the job losses that could ensue.
Protesters called for Amtrak president Richard Anderson, the former chief executive of Delta Air Lines, to be fired, holding up posters of Anderson wearing a top hat with a cartoon-villain mustache drawn on his face. They passed out fliers of Anderson in a chef hat under the headline, “All aboard the coldcut express!”
“He’s turning middle-class jobs into low-class junk jobs,” said John Feltz, railroad division director for the Transport Workers Union of America, one of three unions representing the 1,700 food service employees.
About 80 of these workers are based in Boston.
In June, nearly a year after Anderson took the helm, Amtrak replaced freshly prepared meals with prepackaged food on two long-distance lines, including one that runs out of Boston, according to the Amtrak Service Workers Council, which is made up of three unions representing the workers. As a result, 14 chef positions were eliminated.
At the end of August, Amtrak released a Request for Information for its dining operations seeking to “improve Amtrak’s financial outcome.” The company is looking for industry best practices that will transform customer service, according to the RFI document, and proposals should include staffing “with and without Amtrak employees now performing the work.”
Passengers are also “getting the shaft,” said Amy Griffin, president of TWU Local 1460, told the protesters. Instead of having hot, made-to-order meals, she said, they are getting “cold food served in a cardboard box” with no reduction in ticket prices.
In a statement, Amtrak said it was “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.”
Union officials said the hot option was merely a microwaved prepackaged meal; Amtrak did not provide details, and the company did not respond to questions about the possible outsourcing of food and beverage jobs.
Amtrak did note that of the chefs who lost their jobs, everyone who applied for a new position with the rail company landed one.
But if Amtrak were to lay off all 1,700 food and beverage workers, all of whom are trained in CPR, first aid, and emergency evacuation procedures, Feltz said, “there’s no way they could absorb them.”
Amtrak employs more than 20,000 people nationwide, the majority of them union members.Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.