BY SAM MANUEL
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Union workers at Amtrak won a victory with the reinstatement of Tom Headley on June 10. More than 200 unionists from various crafts on Amtrak's northeast corridor signed petitions demanding the company return Headley to work. Supporters of Headley circulated the petition at terminals in Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The last signatures on the petition came from striking members of the Transport Workers Union in Philadelphia. Ten workers wrote letters to Amtrak supporting reinstatement of the engineer.
At a victory celebration sponsored by the Militant Labor Forum on June 19 Headley explained, "By firing me Amtrak attempted to send me and my co-workers a message - don't mess with us, or we can hurt you. But they failed," he added. Some of Headley's co-workers who were unable to attend sent messages. Thomas R. Jones, a former president of the International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers Local 1050, wrote, "We must breathe new life into the old labor slogan `an injury to one is an injury to all.' That kind of solidarity was important in this case, and it will continue to be so in the future."
A message from Warren Wills, a 22-year car repairman, explained, "By defending Tom, we defend our own rights as well. Tom is not the first person to be subjected to this kind of treatment, and until this society is changed in very fundamental ways, he won't be the last. But on this occasion, we dared to fight them and we won."
Amtrak conductor Ralph Nolletti refuted the company's charge that Headley is an unsafe worker. Referring to a letter he had written to Amtrak management supporting the reinstatement of Headley, Nolletti wrote, "It was the yard crew of Tom Headley and Mark Easton that taught me to work safely in Washington Terminal."
Conductor William Link wrote, "Your long fight for equal justice for all railroad workers including yourself is a shining example of what we can accomplish."
Headley, a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) and the United Transportation Union (UTU), was fired in November 1996. He was charged with failing to clear a spring switch, which resulted in the derailment of an engine. Headley was finally reinstated by a 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. Many workers were appalled at the disproportionate discipline meted out to Headley. The derailment was minor by Amtrak's own admission - no injuries, no track or equipment damage, and no delay of trains. To justify his dismissal the company dragged out every infraction on Headley's record over his 10 years of employment.
Headley is 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 wanted to get rid of him. In its appeal before the board the BLE pointed out that Headley was denied due process and given unequal treatment in the company's "premeditated hunting expedition."
"The truth is," said Headley, "the master class never wants an abolitionist on the plantation. When they go to war by bombing the workers of Iraq or Panama they don't want someone around who will question it-much less someone who will organize workers to oppose them."
Andrea Morell, who won her job back earlier this year after being fired by Amtrak in Boston, also spoke.
Headley is back on the payroll but will be required to complete a retraining program over several weeks.
Sam Manuel is a member of UTU Local 454.
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