Out of Control Policy Blog

UK Lessons for Amtrak's unions

Fascinating press release.

Irvine, CA February 22 2006

British Labor Leader Offers Lessons for Amtrak's Unions

Time and again we hear U.S. labor leaders argue to preserve Amtrak's market-irrelevant route system and oppose reforms that would induce competition and improve services for passengers. A far different view comes from Lou Adams, the former secretary general of Britain's Train Driver's Union.

Mr. Adams said when the railway was to be reformed his union was "totally opposed to it and I argued against the privatization process." Now, ten years after the government discarded the old British Rail nationalized model, the country's passenger trains are setting world-wide records for traffic growth and private capital infusion, the number of railroad jobs is growing, and the pay is better.

He explained the change in his thinking:

"I was vehement that we wanted to stay in the public sector, and of course there were all the usual concerns trade unionists have regarding privatization, safety issues, job losses, protecting the conditions of service, and pensions.

"But accepting the will of Parliament, it was time to look at the arguments. So we said to management, 'Well, if that's what you want, this is what we want.'

"Today I cannot argue against the private entrepreneur coming into the rail industry. We are running 1,700 more trains per day since it was privatized. The entrepreneurs built traffic to the extent that we are having to build more infrastructure.

"What is true is true: 4.2 billion pounds spent on new trains. We never saw that in all the years I've been in the rail industry. All the time it was in the public sector, all we got were cuts, cuts, cuts. And today there are more members in the trade union, more train drivers, and more trains running.

"The reality is that it worked, we've protected jobs, and we got more jobs. If a private company is making more money, I look at that from a union's point of view, 'Well, that looks like a wage increase to me.' And we can argue that.

"And the more secure they are and the more productive they are in delivering train services, well, that means more jobs. I was there when the public railways had some 600,000 people and it came down to 100,000 in the time I worked in the rail industry. Now we are expanding on jobs."

His remarks are quite different than the posture taken by U.S. labor leaders. Details about how domestic labor unions opposed passage of a bill that would have sparked an increase in railroad passenger and freight jobs are found on the blog maintained by Joseph Vranich. (The unions took such action because of a determination to preserve unwarranted job-protection provisions.) It's found with the heading, "Obstructionism by Amtrak Labor Unions" on the "Replacing Amtrak" blog here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joseph Vranich has been involved with rail service for 35 years, serving as an Amtrak public affairs spokesman, president of the High Speed Rail Association, and U.S. Senate appointee to the Amtrak Reform Council. End of the Line is his third book about rail service.

Adrian Moore is Vice President, Policy


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