A threatened strike against Amtrak's passenger service has been temporarily averted, but negotiators for the railroad workers remain on a collision course with the Conrail freight system.
Jedd Dodd, head of the Pennsylvania Federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, said the threat of a strike against Amtrak had dissolved because the national passenger railroad agreed to delay implementation of a new health insurance program until the issue could be addressed in mediation talks.
Consolidated Rail Corp., however, is going ahead with its plans to implement the new health-care package at the first of the year. The company is contending that it can begin the new program, even though Conrail is still involved in mediation talks on other issues.
Conrail is seeking an injunction to keep the union from striking. A hearing is set for Dec. 11 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia
Baltimore Lodge 3075 of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, which represents 181 area employees of Amtrak and 74 workers for the Conrail system, is backing the Pennsylvania Federation's fight against the health plan and the union's decision to strike if the new benefits are implemented before mediation talks end.
The health-care plan would increase the percentage that workers pay toward health insurance. The plan was approved in national negotiations with other rail companies earlier this year, but Amtrak and Conrail, which negotiate independently, were not parties to that agreement.
The two rail companies have been negotiating with the union for several years on wages and benefits, but talks have stalled and now are in mediation. As long as the talks are in mediation, the union cannot strike.
Amtrak has said it would release the union from the mediation talks Jan. 15 if the issues weren't resolved. The union would then have to wait another 30 days before initiating a strike.
The union is claiming that it would have the right to strike before mediation talks end with Conrail if the railroad implements the new health benefits Jan. 1.