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BLET members ratify agreement that preserves jobs at Wheeling & Lake Erie

MOBERLY, Mo., June 20 — Engineers and Trainmen belonging to BLET Division 292 (Beach City, Ohio) have overwhelmingly ratified new labor agreements for both train and engine service crafts. The BLET members are employed by the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad (W&LE) and are represented by the BLET’s Norfolk Southern - Northern Lines/W&LE General Committee of Adjustment.

The agreement provides substantial wage increases for members and other important quality of live improvements. More significantly, the agreement protects jobs. The BLET successfully fought to maintain two-person train operations in the face of carrier demands for single person operations.

Negotiations for both agreements had been underway for seven years and for the past several years had been supervised by the National Mediation Board. BLET is certified to represent both train and engine service crafts at W&LE. Out of 64 ballots cast, 47 were in favor of the new engine service agreement. Out of 82 ballots cast, 62 were in favor of the new train service agreement.

The new agreements provide for immediate hourly wage increases for locomotive engineers and trainmen. The total wage packages provide overall wage increases of 21.4% for locomotive engineers and 21.38% for train service employees, as well as longevity bonuses. The agreement expires at the end of 2011.

Both agreements provide significant improvements to the lifestyles of all W&LE train and engine service employees. The agreements provide that all employees assigned to extra boards will have one regular rest day per week, and also provides for improved electronic line up information. Additionally, all train and engine service employees will be able to take one week of their vacations a day at a time.

Both agreements provide that retiring employees will now be provided with up to $415.00/month for gap insurance, which will make it easier for W&LE employees to take advantage of early retirement under Railroad Retirement. While the agreement also provides for a modest level of employee cost sharing in line with other W&LE employees, the agreements cap the cost sharing level reached in 2011 pending the negotiation of subsequent agreements.

One reason that the negotiations took such a long time, and the reason mediation was invoked by General Chairman Cole Davis in 2006, was the carrier’s demand that the Organization agree to single person operation. The Organization was successful in having this demand pulled off of the table, and the agreement was reached without any changes made to the train service agreement’s crew consist provision. The Organization also resisted a late demand by the carrier that it commit in advance to negotiate over this issue during the next round.

General Chairman Cole Davis, who negotiated the agreement with the help of Division 292 Local Chairmen Steve Fogle and John Lemmert, was assisted throughout by Vice President Marcus Ruef.

“This has been a very long and, at times, tedious process,” General Chairman Davis said in expressing his pleasure that this process had finally reached completion. “While Brothers Fogle, Lemmert, Ruef and I were the principal players during the last year, these negotiations span back through the tenure of the two general chairmen that preceded me, Larry Sikes and Bob Linsey, Vice Presidents Paul Sorrow and Dale McPherson, and many other BLET officers on the property such as Division President Dean Dennis and Vice President Tim Johns.”

Brother Davis also thanked John Tolman, BLET Vice President & national Legislative Representative, and Tim Hanely, Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman, for helping to apply key political pressure on the issue of one man trains. Davis said Vice President Tolman was key in opening doors at the National Mediation Board in Washington, D.C., while State Chairman Hanely helped arrange meetings with the staff of Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.

Brother Davis apologized in advance for any names he forgot owing to the long history of this process which, in his words, “took on a life of its own.”

Vice President Ruef commended the negotiating team for their perseverance and tenacity.

“Our success in resisting W&LE’s attempt to dilute the train service crew consist rule demonstrates our commitment to maintaining two crew members, and vindicates our custody of the train service agreement,” he said. “It also belies the claim of some that our negotiation of meaningful engineer scope rules threatens the craft of conductor.”

Brothers Davis and Ruef also thanked Federal Mediators Larry Gibbons and Dick Hanusz of NMB, who provided mediation services during the last several years of negotiations.

Finally, Brother Davis thanked National President Ed Rodzwicz and First Vice President Paul Sorrow, who attended the final mediation session that culminated in the ratified agreements, noting that their presence served to reinforce the seriousness with which the Organization takes the crew consist issue.

Friday, June 20, 2008
bentley@ble-t.org

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