UTU, AFL-CIO voice concerns over new Amtrak CEO

The United Transportation Union and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department each expressed concern about the qualifications of Amtrak’s new president, Alexander Kummant, as reported by Bureau of National Affairs writer Derrick Cain.

Frank Wilner, spokesman for the UTU, who also wrote the book The Amtrak Story, said Kummant's “history of moving from job to job” concerns him. “Amtrak has been plagued with no continuity,” Wilner said. “I am concerned that [Kummant] has not held his jobs.” Since 1998, Kummant has held seven different jobs, including vice president of Union Pacific’s Central Division.

Wilner also said that he spoke with Union Pacific shippers who claimed that Kummant “never learned very much about railroads.” Wilner and others noted that railroad executives usually keep their positions for lengthy periods of time.

Ed Wytkind, executive director of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, said his group would not comment on Kummant's past work experience. Instead, he offered an opinion as to what Kummant faces at the new job.

”Obviously, the new CEO inherits ruptured labor/management relations left by his predecessors,” Wytkind said. Wytkind said many Amtrak employees have not had a raise in seven years. “He is inheriting the mess,” Wytkind said. “His master has been wedded to the break-up of Amtrak.” In context “his master” referred to the Amtrak Board of Directors.

Amtrak Board Chairman David M. Laney announced that Kummant was tapped to permanently fill the vacancy created when David Gunn was abruptly fired by the board in November.

“Alex Kummant has the outstanding credentials and experience to lead a changing Amtrak that is more customer-focused and fiscally responsible,” Laney said. “His appointment fulfills the board's commitment to select an extraordinarily strong and capable leader for Amtrak's future, building on the growing national desire for more and improved passenger rail service.”

Kummant, who will assume the CEO duties on Sept. 12, previously served as a regional vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad, overseeing 6,000 transportation, engineering, construction, mechanical, and other employees supporting an 8,000-mile rail network. He also served as the Union Pacific's vice president and general manager of industrial products, a $2 billion revenue business, according to Amtrak.

In leading both units, Kummant was credited with substantially improving customer service and on-time delivery of client products, as well as with significant gains in financial and operational performance. Additionally at Union Pacific, Kummant held the role of vice president of premium operations, overseeing the intermodal and automotive network performance. He worked with Union Pacific from September 1999 to an unknown date in 2003, according to railroad stakeholders.

After leaving Union Pacific, Kummant became president of BOMAG, which is a Germany-based manufacturer of heavy and light equipment for soil, asphalt, and refuse compaction. He reportedly began that job in April 2004 and remained until January 2005. In April 2005, Kummant was hired as the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Komatsu America Corp., a division of the second largest supplier of construction equipment worldwide. He departed Komatsu, going to Invensys Controls in May 2006, as a vice president. Invensys Controls labels itself as a “global automation, controls and process solutions group.”

Kummant's first job on the railroad came at age 18 in Lorain, Ohio, working on a track crew for the Lake Terminal Railroad at the U.S. Steel Lorain Works, according to Amtrak.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said Kummant's time at Union Pacific should help Amtrak to better work with its partners in the freight rail industry. “I look forward to learning more about him and working with him, especially as Congress takes up Amtrak reform legislation this fall,” Carper said.

Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said that some rail stakeholders are "going ballistic" over his employment with Union Pacific, which is constantly at odds with Amtrak over rail capacity and usage issues. “But for me, because he worked four years of his 20-year career with Union Pacific, it is not significant,” Capon said. “I do not assume that anyone working for Union Pacific is out to kill Amtrak.”

Capon said he is more concerned about the number of jobs Kummant has held, noting the frequent leadership change at Amtrak over the past 10 years. “Amtrak needs stability and someone to be around for a while,” Capon said.

Gunn was hired in May 2002 and served until his firing in November 2005. His annual salary was $275,000. Kummant's annual salary will be $350,000. [bold added]

Wilner also noted Kummant's financial contributions to the Republican Party. Kummant donated $1,000 to the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign on June 30, 2003, according to the Federal Election Commission database. Kummant's wife, Kathleen Regan Kummant, also contributed $1,000 to the campaign at the same time. His wife is a former senior executive with BNSF Railway, where she was vice president of business development.

Alexander Kummant also contributed $6,523 to the Union Pacific Corporation for Effective Governments between 2000 and 2002, according to the FEC. That group made several $10,000 donations to mostly Republican candidates, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Railroads Subcommittee. The group has also made contributions to Democratic lawmakers, but the majority of money went to Republican candidates.

”Kummant was hand-picked despite a lack of experience,” Wilner said. “UTU has concerns on whether he's coming in with the preconceived notion to reduce or eliminate Amtrak. The administration has made no secret of its desire for major reforms at Amtrak, even floating proposals that would steer the nation's commercial passenger rail system to a privatized system.” For instance, in 2005, the administration proposed a budget for Amtrak essentially zeroing it out.

Kummant fills a position that has been held by David J. Hughes on an interim basis since November 2005. Formerly Amtrak chief engineer, Hughes will continue to serve with the railroad in a yet to be specified capacity, Amtrak said.

”For the past nine months, David Hughes has stepped in and performed exceptionally in leading our strategic reforms and operational improvements,” Laney said. “On behalf of the Amtrak Board of Directors, he has our deepest admiration and respect, and we are delighted that he will continue to play an important role in Amtrak's future.”

Kummant holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University, a master's degree in manufacturing engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, and an M.B.A. from Stanford University.

(The preceding article, by Derrick Cain, was published August 31, 2006, by the Bureau of National Affairs.)