- Associated Press - Sunday, July 5, 2015

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Sen. Tom Carper addressed a crowd of about 200 Amtrak workers donning hard-hats at a ceremony today to unveil an old glory-colored locomotive with the words, “Amtrak’s railroad salutes our veterans.”

At Amtrak’s maintenance facility in Wilmington, Delaware’s senior senator led the crowd in a chant to support the roughly 50 workers in attendance who are also military veterans.

“I just want us to say, welcome home, welcome home. One more time, welcome home,” Carper said.

The unveiling of the Siemens-built electric locomotive, which will operate in the Northeast Corridor, is the latest effort in Amtrak’s collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to aid military veterans. In addition to the commemorative train, Amtrak is attempting to fill its ranks of new engineers, mechanics, and maintenance workers with ex-soldiers.

“If you know somebody, who’s a veteran, who’s looking for a job, send them to one of (Amtrak’s) job fairs,” Carper said at the event.

Since 2013, 21 percent of new Amtrak employees are military veterans, said Kimberly Woods, spokeswoman for Amtrak. That’s shy of the company’s goal to have one-quarter of its hires come from the armed forces.

In 2014, Amtrak employed 1,127 workers in Delaware at facilities in Wilmington and Bear.

We’ve hired a lot of veterans for our police force, we’ve hired a lot who’ve become conductors,” said Joe McHugh, a vice president at Amtrak.

During the economic downturn in 2009, James Miller, a Wilmington resident and Iraq War-veteran from a U.S. Navy construction battalion, couldn’t find many jobs that matched his skill-set. That’s until he attended a career fair in Philadelphia.

“Amtrak was one of the companies there and I gave them my resume and I got hired,” Miller said. “While I was here, I used my post-9-11 G.I. Bill, and from that I got my bachelor’s degree, and I advanced up in Amtrak.”

While standing next to the new locomotive today, he offered a little perspective about what honoring veterans means to him.

“Anytime they can recognize veterans, any company, it’s more than welcome,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we’re all standing here. There are a lot of guys that are not.”

There were few military veterans working at Amtrak two decades ago, said Raymond Cortese, an Amtrak maintenance worker from Wilmington. He appreciates the company’s current attempt to hire veterans, but said that Amtrak had spent too many years bringing on individuals simply because they already knew someone who worked at the company.

“There was a lot of favoritism,” Cortese said.

McHugh acknowledged that Amtrak has hired from pools of workers who were friends or family of other employees. He contended, however, that it’s often family members of train workers who make the best new hires.

“There’s a certain amount of stability, of decent pay, so why wouldn’t you want to bring in family members who have the skill-sets,” McHugh said.


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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