Workers walk on a platform at Union Station

Amtrak workers walk on a platform at Union Station in Washington, D.C. on November 28, 2023.

(Photo: Bastien Inzaurralde/AFP via Getty Images)

'Betrayal of Labor': Biden Nominates Ex-Trump Official to Amtrak Board

"This appointment reads less like an oversight and more like a slap in the face to those who championed worker safety and stronger regulations," said Railroad Workers United.

Rail workers voiced outrage Thursday after U.S. President Joe Biden quietly nominated a former Trump administration official with a history of supporting deregulation to Amtrak's board of directors, a move that one alliance of unions called a "slap in the face."

Ronald Batory, who has ties to the rail industry, served as head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under former President Donald Trump, who aggressively slashed transport and rail safety regulations during his four years in office—laying the groundwork for disasters such as the East Palestine, Ohio crash.

The Associated Pressnotes that before serving at the FRA, Batory was president and chief operating officer of Conrail, "a service provider for the CSX and Norfolk Southern freight railroads." Norfolk Southern operated the train that derailed in East Palestine last year, spilling toxic chemicals and sparking a public health crisis.

In 2019, Batory faced backlash from rail unions for withdrawing a proposed rule aimed at establishing mandatory crew sizes on freight and passenger trains.

"President Donald Trump, [Department of Transportation] Secretary Elaine Chao, and FRA Administrator Ron Batory have taken sides, and it's with the railroads that want to eliminate operating crew members to the detriment of rail safety and to the detriment of the communities through which our members operate trains," SMART Transportation Division said at the time.

"Clearly, the railroad CEOs have their folks in power with President Trump and his administration," the union added. "This action should put an end to any thoughts that this president and this administration is supportive of railroad workers."

Earlier this month, Biden's FRA finalized a rule requiring two-person crews on trains with limited exceptions. The reform received praise from railway workers and their allies.

But an organization representing rail workers across the U.S. said Biden's decision to nominate Batory to the board of Amtrak—the nation's passenger railroad company—calls into question the president's commitment to worker and rail safety.

"Batory, renowned for his role in loosening rail safety regulations during a tenure that critics link to subsequent rail disasters like East Palestine, is now poised to shape Amtrak's future," Railroad Workers United (RWU) wrote on social media late Thursday. "Remember the 2022 rail workers' debacle? When labor unions hoped for Biden's support, and instead got a presidential shove to accept a contract that many felt skirted around their key demands? It's almost poetic then, how Biden's nomination of Batory seems to echo that same disregard."

"The message to labor seems clear: Loyalty and votes might get you a seat at the table, but don't count on staying there if bigger political machinations are at play," RWU added. "With Batory's track record, this appointment reads less like an oversight and more like a slap in the face to those who championed worker safety and stronger regulations. It's as if the administration is keen on maintaining a tradition—disappointing the very base that arguably played a pivotal role in securing their position. Let's brace ourselves for more 'strategic' decisions that may just reroute us back to the past, disregarding those who handle the daily grind on our railroads."

Biden also nominated Elaine Marie Clegg, the CEO of Valley Regional Transit, to an Amtrak board position.

Clegg and Batory must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Railway Age contributing editor Frank Wilner wrote Thursday that Batory could face a Democratic "hold" on his nomination in the Senate "given that many in rail labor are unhappy" with his withdrawal of the train crew rule during his tenure as FRA administrator.

Ross Grooters, a Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen member and co-chair of RWU, said Thursday that Biden's nomination of Batory "is a betrayal of labor, arguably bigger than the 2022 contract dispute."

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