May 30, 2003

CHICAGO (May 30)–The UTU Illinois Legislative Board is asking the union’s members, their families and all other members of organized labor to reach out to their U.S. congressmen and ask them to support Amtrak’s 2004 budget request of $1.812 billion.

Those members who reach out to their congressmen will be acting in concert with four members of Congress who already have begun an outreach of their own.

In a May 27 “Dear Colleague” letter the four members, led by Railroad Subcommittee Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), asked all members of Congress to sign their appeal asking the leadership of the House Committee on Appropriations and its Subcommittee on Transportation to approve the Amtrak budget request.

In addition to Quinn, the letter was signed by Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), James Oberstar (D-Minn,.) the ranking Democratic member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who also sits on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

“Amtrak’s new president Dave Gunn has done a remarkable job in turning the railroad around in his first year at the helm,” the “Dear Colleague” letter said. “He and his team have produced significant changes that have refocused the company on its core business–carrying passengers.

“Amtrak has prepared a detailed business plan that will serve as a road map to stabilizing the railroad and bring it to a state of good repair,” the letter continued. “But, as Mr. Gunn has testified, this will take time–and money. Amtrak will need $1.812 billion in Fiscal Year 2004 to invest in the infrastructure, repair damaged equipment and operate the railroad. Let’s give him the resources he needs.”

“You couldn’t make the message any shorter or sweeter than those four congressmen did in the Quinn letter,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“But the message in the Quinn letter is meaningless unless our own members reinforce it by sending the same message to members of the Illinois delegation in the House,” Szabo said. “If Illinois congressmen hear the same appeal from their own colleagues and their own constituents at the same time, they’re likely to ‘get it’ about the importance of funding a strong passenger-rail system in this country.”

Szabo said the fastest and most effective way to contact your representative in Congress is with a phone call and e-mail followed up by a fax.

“The three contacts in sequence always make a strong impression on congressmen,” he said, “Always make the phone call first. Then follow up with an e-mail and a fax. Just don’t use the U.S. Mail. It can be delayed for weeks because all mail going to offices on Capitol Hill is screened for anthrax.”

To identify your congressional representative, just go to the “Links to Useful Web Sites” in the left-hand column of the Illinois Legislative Board’s home page. Click “Federal Agencies,” then click “U.S. House of Representatives.” The prompts will lead you directly to the congressman for your district and provide phone and fax numbers for the district and Washington offices as well as the e-mail address.

“I would use the language in the Quinn letter as a model,” Szabo said. “It represents a very focused and reasonable argument for Amtrak funding. But if you’re pressed for time, just ask your congressman to ‘sign the Quinn letter.’ He’ll know what you mean.”

Szabo said, “Amtrak’s operational and financial performance has improved dramatically in the first year of Dave Gunn’s management, but he will need additional time and a 2004 budget of $1.8 billion to get the company truly stabilized. Let’s get on the phone now and make sure our representatives in the House understand that.”