An article in The Sun Tuesday incorrectly stated that a presidential emergency board is investigating a dispute between Conrail and two of its unions. In fact, the emergency board is examining the dispute with only one union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes.
The Sun regrets the errors.
Amtrak, which operates 230 trains a day carrying 60,000 passengers nationwide, is bracing for a strike June 24.
That's when the complicated mediation machinery set up under federal law will grind to a halt and the rail unions will be free to
Amtrak officials fear it might be hard to avoid a strike. "Hope springs eternal," said R. Clifford Black, an Amtrak spokesman at the company's Washington headquarters. But he added that some of the rail unions "appear to be altogether willing to strike regardless of what is offered."
About one-third of the railroad's union members, including engineers, maintenance of way workers, electricians and mechanics, have been unable to reach a contract agreement with Amtrak.
Amtrak says it provided the unions that have settled with raises averaging 18 percent over three years, in addition to $2,000 lump-sum payments. It says it can afford to increase union wages only in return for concessions on work rules.
The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, one of the unions still without an agreement with Amtrak, dismisses the 18 percent figure as a "public relations ploy."
Amtrak's demands would effectively reduce union members' total compensation by 30 percent, the union said.
With a strike threatened April 4, President Bush invoked a federal labor law allowing him to create a presidential emergency board to gather evidence and issue recommendations. That board is scheduled to issue recommendations May 28.
Those recommendations will not be binding. After a one-month cooling-off period, the two sides will be free to take "self-help" June 24, meaning that the railroad will be able to impose its
proposed contract terms and the union will be free to strike.
Amtrak is not the only railroad taking this route.
Two other emergency boards following the same schedule are investigating parallel disputes, one between Conrail and its engineers and maintenance workers, the other between the Machinists union and most of the nation's big freight railroads.
That means a national rail strike against the nation's freight railroads could start the same day Amtrak is struck.
Such a national strike almost certainly would prompt Congress to order the unions back to work and order a legislative solution to the dispute, as Congress did to put a quick end to a national rail strike a year ago.
Union officials hope to avoid that.
One strategy might be to strike just one railroad, since such a limited action would not be a national strike and would be less likely to spur congressional intervention.