BY SAM MANUEL
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Some 145 engineers, conductors, car cleaners, and other union workers on Amtrak's northeast corridor have signed petitions calling on the company to reinstate Tom Headley. A longtime socialist and union activist, Headley was fired in November 1996. He is a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) and the United Transportation Union (UTU). The BLE has filed an appeal for Headley's reinstatment. Headley is widely known on the job as a socialist and for distributing books and pamphlets by revolutionaries and working-class fighters. Several workers have pointed to this as the real reason Amtrak wants to get rid of Headley.
Headley was charged with failing to clear a spring switch, which resulted in the derailment of an engine. He was found guilty at a company hearing commonly referred to by workers as a "kangaroo court." The hearing, also called a trial, is completely run by the company. The accused worker is allowed to have a union representative present. A review by Amtrak's labor relations department upheld the company's ruling.
Headley's case is now supposed to go before the public law board, a three-judge panel consisting of a company representative, a union representative, and a third member paid by the government under provisions of the Railway Labor Act to officiate and cast the deciding vote in these proceedings.
Amtrak workers in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., where Headley worked, are petitioning in support of the fired unionist. Ten workers also wrote personal letters to Amtrak chairman George Warrington.
In his letter, Thomas R. Jones, a former local chairman of the International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers Local 1050, noted the severity of the discipline meted out to Headley for a minor infraction. "I have observed more than enough to know that his [Headley's] dismissal was unfair and a departure from past and current Amtrak practice in such cases," Jones wrote. The initial investigation of the incident by Amtrak acknowledged that no personal injuries, equipment damage, track damage, or delays to trains resulted from the derailment.
Amtrak has attempted to justify its dismissal of Headley based upon "a record of prior infractions." This charge rings hollow with most workers. Engineer William Broadus with 14 years at Amtrak wrote, "I don't agree that Mr. Headley is unsafe or unreliable, and I would not hesitate to work with him as an engineer."
Warren Wills, a 22-year car repairman, pointed to the prejudicial conduct of Amtrak's investigation. "The company appears to have decided to assign guilt to Mr. Headley before the formal investigation was even held," he wrote. Wills noted that the conductor and assistant conductor were not even called in as witnesses.
A brief submitted by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers pointed to many violations of its own rules by the company in this case. The spring switch, where the derailment occurred, had no directional targets on it. This is in violation of the Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee, which governs Amtrak's train operations in the region. Directional targets on switches indicate to crews which direction of movement tracks are aligned.
Headley was held out of service prior to a full investigation, a violation of the company's agreement with the BLE. In its appeal the BLE points out that Headley was denied due process and given unequal treatment in the company's "premeditated hunting expedition." Co-workers who support Headley's fight are continuing to circulate petitions and get protest messages.
Sam Manuel is a member of the UTU at Conrail in
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