Dark Territory: Amtrak and the Pursuit of "Return on Diversity" (ROD)

In a perfect world, you’d have a high speed rail system in the United States that was the envy of every nation on earth.

Amtrak: 40 percent of its employees are the highly sought-after “People of Color” Demographic


With efficient, high-speed rails connecting Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, Atlanta to Birmingham, Charlotte to Richmond, you’d be able to live in one city and work in another. But then again, with America’s transformation into one giant service economy, with people making a living selling some form of insurance to one another, what’s the point of making such a wise investment in the future of transportation?

But then again, most of America’s major cities are crime-ridden, bankrupt, examples of urban misery, completely controlled by entrenched black political power. Why would high-speed rail be needed to go to Milwaukee, Detroit, or Cleveland in 2012 America? Capital is fleeing these cities. 

In our world, we make investments that are measured, not in such financially important terms as Return on Investment (ROI), but as how this money is best spent to improve the never-ending social engineering in America. We call this Return on Diversity (ROD).

Take Amtrak for instance. Clark Whelton, in the pages of City Journal, recently dubbed the 20,000 person strong organization, “Bottom line: Amtrak is a jobs program on wheels.”[The Cross-Country Jobs Program/Notes on riding Amtrak, Autumn 2012].

This got me interested in the dynamics of Amtrak’s employees – the corporation created by Congress when private industry abandoned U.S. passenger rail” – since they make, on average, $90,000/year. 

Having read that drugs (specially cocaine and marijuana) and alcohol abuse plagues Amtrak employees [Amtrak workers failing drug tests more often, Associated Press, 9-28-2012], the demographic breakdown of Amtrak employees intrigued me further. 


Reading in the New York Times that Amtrak costing the taxpayer big-time when it came inefficiently run/managed food and beverage department made me realize that the ROD cost of funding Amtrak must be through the roof [Amtrak Losing Millions Each Year on Food Sales, by Ron Nixon, 8-2-2012]:

 Amtrak lost more than $800 million on its food and beverage services over the last 10 years, largely because of waste, employee theft and lack of proper oversight, government auditors have found. 

According to audits by the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, and the railroad’s own inspector general, Amtrak loses about $80 million a year selling food. Since 2002, Amtrak’s food service has lost $834 million. 

Amtrak said it was increasing the use of credit cards for food sales to cut down on cash thefts by employees, reducing staff, creating a better system to track inventory and to collect revenue. It has also set up a three-person loss-prevention unit. 

Mr. Alves, who issued a report on the problem last year, estimated that theft by Amtrak food service employees could cost the agency $4 million to $7 million annually.  

All businesses, be they private or public, deal with shrinkage of inventory through employee theft or embezzlement of funds. Those businesses whose managers pursue the ever more important ROD, as opposed to the ROI, look the other way.

Kevin Marshall, diversity initiatives director at Amtrak, recently bragged about the ROD the 20,000+ organization represents, gloating that 40 percent of organization is a “person of color” (roughly 8,000). He wrote [Amtrak welcomes diversity aboard, Diversity Careers]:

Amtrak employs more than 20,000 people and understands the value of diversity as a social and business imperative. Its corporate culture includes a commitment to diversity in all areas of the organization. “Key to maintaining this appreciation is Amtrak’s diversity training program, which makes clear the corporation’s position on diversity and provides the background, information and resources necessary to work successfully in a diverse environment,” Marshall notes. 

“Our diversity training program is designed to be an ongoing journey that emphasizes key principles of diversity and inclusion. Since its inception it has been an important vehicle used to make certain that employees have a clear understanding of the company’s expectations for sustaining a diverse, inclusive environment.” 

Amtrak’s numbers are impressive. Overall, a quarter of its employees are women and two out of five are persons of color. In the management ranks almost a third are women and a third are persons of color. African Americans make up the largest minority group, followed by Hispanics. 

For new hires in Amtrak management, 37 percent are women and 37 percent persons of color. After African Americans, Asians and Hispanics are best represented.

So Amtrak might be a gigantic waste of money, but continuing to subsidize the system employees 20,000+ (40 percent being the highly sought after “people of color” demographic) means that the ROD is… priceless.

Like so much of the federal government, the ROD costs blinds all other goals at so many of the departments and federal agencies.

You can have nice things, or you can continue to tolerate the rising societal costs of a government that values ROD above all other metrics of efficiency. The costs to building community (social trust) are astronomical when the pursuit of ROD is the noblest goal of the managerial elite in charge of the nation.

Back in 1998, when Republicans controlled Congress and were talking austerity measures to save the taxpayers money, Black employees of Amtrak rallied to ensure the ROD investment wasn’t cut-back [Black employees file bias suit against Amtrak Class-action case alleges discrimination in hiring, promotion, other areas, Baltimore Sun, 4-9-1998]:

 In a class action that could involve thousands of current and former employees, 10 Amtrak workers filed suit yesterday against the ailing passenger railroad company, alleging racial discrimination in hiring and firings, promotions, training, pay and job assignments. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. The allegations were brought by a union and 10 current and former employees who claim white engineering managers in Boston, Washington and Philadelphia permit — and in some cases condone — a hostile work environment in which racial epithets and demeaning remarks are routinely made to African-Americans. 

The lawsuit also alleges that black workers are overwhelmingly confined to low-level and low-paying jobs. 

The lawsuit comes at a critical time for Amtrak, officially known as the National Passenger Railroad Co. Republicans in Congress are insisting the railroad company must turn a profit by 2002 or go out of business, forcing the company to eliminate 20 percent of its routes and reduce its work force by 2,000 through layoffs, early retirements and buyouts. 

Although minorities now represent approximately 34 percent of the company’s overall work force, the lawsuit accuses Amtrak of failing to promote and treat its African-American employees fairly. 

One employee, machinist Henry Crawford, 54, of Boston, said his managers discouraged him from taking a test that would have allowed him to move into a higher-paying job. Crawford, an Amtrak employee in Boston for 11 years, said although he took and passed a required test, he was later told he had failed an interview. 

“I’ve worked hard,” Crawford said. “All I want now is to be treated fairly, and I want that for all my people on the job.”

Nothing, nothing can jeopardize the quarterly and yearly goals of improving ROD. Not even the ruin of a nation.

In a perfect world, we’d fire the bulk of Amtrak’s employees and start over, figuring out which routes made sense to invest in with greater resources. The ROD would be abandoned for the pursuit of improving ROI.

But more importantly, the ROD investment would be retired for the pursuit of actually improving the nation for Americans; instead of improving the fortunes of “people of color” at the expense (and on the tab) of white people.

PK NOTE: I was joking about the whole ROD thing, but I actually came upon some nut who peddles himself as a Diversity Return on Investment (DROI) guru. 

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