September 2011

IBEW, Rail Unions Awarded $126 Million
High-Speed Train Job
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IBEW electricians in Delaware had always taken pride in their overhauls of hard-run Amtrak locomotives. But, in 2000, when Amtrak launched the high-speed Acela, serving passengers on the Northeast corridor, five-year overhauls were assigned to the manufacturer of the new cars, Bombardier.

In July, following months of discussions between Wilmington Local 2270, other railroad unions and Amtrak, the carrier awarded a $126 million contract to Delaware's organized shops for extensive 10-year overhauls to Acela equipment.

Local 2270 President Frank Gentry said he was "relieved" to win the contract, because it had appeared that furloughs could be announced without new work coming into the Wilmington and Bear, Del., shops. But, even more importantly, says Gentry, the Acela contract will help secure jobs over the long haul. "We can't work on conventional trains forever. High-speed trains are the way of the future, and now we can get in the door on the newest high-tech equipment."

IBEW Railroad Department Director Bill Bohné praises Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman for fulfilling a pledge to permit the union shops to bid against contractors and make their case for efficiency, productivity and quality. "This is not just a victory for Local 2270," says Bohné. "Amtrak saves money and time by keeping the work in-house."

The Wilmington shop employs 97 electricians. Eighty-seven IBEW members work in Bear. Overhauls, covering 70 train sets and power units, will be completed over the next three-and-a-half years.

"It's a big plus for Local 2270 that our members will replace nonunion workers to overhaul Amtrak's equipment, leading to greater contributions to the Railroad Retirement Fund," says the local's vice president, David Hamm.

Unions, including the IBEW, sheet metal workers, transport workers, International Association of Machinists and the American Railway and Airway Supervisors Association, lobbied the Delaware congressional delegation in support of their members gaining Acela work. They succeeded in winning $500,000 in state funds to match Amtrak's investment in a feasibility study on building a new high-speed rail facility in Wilmington. The shop would employ 500 to 1,000 outside union trades.

Gentry said he is hopeful that showcasing the union shops' expertise will not only bring back work previously contracted out, but attract new customers. Union members will staff a table at an upcoming railroad conference in New Orleans. "We'll sell our shops," says Gentry.

Staff from the state's three-person congressional delegation toured the shop July 22. Sen. Tom Carper said in a statement that "Delaware has a talented and highly skilled union work force and these workers will be supplied with good jobs for years to come."

U.S. Invests in Domestic Train Manufacturing

On Aug. 3, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that five states will share more than $336 million in federal funds to purchase next-generation, American-made trains to modernize their intercity passenger rail systems. The funds are another installment in $10 billion invested by the Obama administration to build a national high-speed passenger rail network.

Under "Buy America" requirements, domestic or foreign firms will be required to locate manufacturing in the U.S. to produce 33 quick-acceleration locomotives and 120 bi-level passenger cars. The trains will be designed to travel more than 110 mph.

In 2009, LaHood secured a commitment from 30 foreign and domestic rail manufacturers to employ American workers and locate or expand their base of operations in the U.S. if they are selected for high-speed-rail contracts.

California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Missouri will share the latest federal investment. Combined with previous grants, those states and Washington state will receive $728 million.

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, a former leader of the United Transportation Union, says, "Building a nationwide rail network is critical to America's long-term economic success. More people are choosing to take the train and this year Amtrak is projected to set an all-time record by topping 30 million annual riders."

In June, the transportation department announced a $562.9 million loan to Amtrak to finance the purchase of 70 high-performance, electric locomotives from Siemens Industry USA, creating 250 new manufacturing jobs in California, Ohio and Georgia.

While prior federal grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act didn't require states to put up funds, the latest federal allocations require matching state contributions of 20 percent. By pooling orders for locomotive equipment, states and the federal sector will enable manufacturers to achieve economies of scale. The goal, says FRA's Mike Murray, is to keep plants operating smoothly, create good jobs and not have the starts and stops in production that have characterized U.S. locomotive manufacturing.

Sterling Rapposelli, left, and Tommy Rapposelli, members of Bear, Del., Local 2270, maintain Amtrak locomotives. Their shop will play a key role in overhauling high-speed rail cars, work that that was previously outsourced.