BLET members ratify contracts at three short lines

CLEVELAND, August 9 — Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) recently ratified new collective bargaining agreements with three different short line railroads.

Members who work for the Connecticut Southern, the Ohio Central / Columbus & Ohio River Railroad, and the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad all have ratified contracts that provide wage increases, health and welfare benefits, and improved union protections.

The three separate properties fall under the jurisdiction of the BLET’s New York, Susquehanna & Western General Committee of Adjustment, headed by General Chairman Ben Martin.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said: “The BLET has led the way in organizing and negotiating contracts in the short line industry in recent years. Our Brothers and Sisters who work for short line railroads are an integral part of our Brotherhood, and they take great pride in the dignity and respect that comes from their strong union contracts. I offer my sincere congratulations and thanks to General Chairman Ben Martin, assigned Vice President Willard Knight, and the numerous members of the three negotiating teams for bringing these negotiations to a successful conclusion.”

Connecticut Southern

BLET members who work at the Connecticut Southern Railroad, a RailAmerica subsidiary, ratified their second-ever BLET contract in June. The members first joined the Brotherhood in February of 2008, and obtained their first union contract eight months later.

The negotiating team consisted of Brother Martin and Spencer Hogan of BLET Division 521 (Hawthorne, N.J.). The new five-year deal provides increased wages (15 percent over the life of the agreement), safety incentives, increased work boot allowance, and a ninth paid holiday. It also establishes a prescription safety glasses program. The BLET also obtained an important crew consist provision, which will be instrumental in protecting BLET members.

The agreement also adds an Extra Board protocol for future protection of BLET members. “The Connecticut Southern is a small property that rosters 12-14 employees at any given time, and it has operated as a scheduled railroad, but it was important to the membership to insist they had better protection above and beyond their 40-hour guarantee,” Brother Martin said. “We were very pleased that we maintained all previous contractual benefits from the first agreement without givebacks.”

Ohio Central / Columbus & Ohio River Railroad

The new BLET contract with the Ohio Central / Columbus & Ohio River Railroad, a Genesee & Wyoming subsidiary, is the first-ever union contract for the members there. The formerly non-union workers voted overwhelmingly to join the BLET in December of 2009.

“Finishing this first agreement is a cornerstone to progressing with future agreements on Genesee & Wyoming properties,” Brother Martin said.

The negotiating team consisted of Brother Martin and National Vice President Willard Knight. The new three-year deal establishes many important basic provisions of a union contract, including a seniority-based system for bidding on job assignments, discipline rules, a union shop agreement, job craft protection, a crew consist provision, and standards for cleanliness of locomotives.

“These employees were pushed around for 12 hours a day for a flat rate, while the Carrier was making record profits,” Brother Martin said. “The engineers and conductors called upon the BLET and the BLET answered.” The new agreement provides wage increases of over $5 per hour by 2014, based on a 10-hour day as opposed to a 12-hour day.

New York, Susquehanna & Western

BLET members ratified a new four-year contract at the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad, which provides general wage increases of 10 percent over the life of the contract, based on an hourly rate of pay system. Members will also receive full retroactive pay.

The negotiating team consisted of Brother Martin and Division 521 Local Committee of Adjustment members Sid Baldwin and Stephen Weiss. The new deal provides an increased certification allowance, along with improved meal allowances and better sick leave provisions. “As small as it may be in the overall scheme of the strong existing agreement, one flaw we had for decades was there was no paid sick time,” Brother Martin said. “We finally broke through and negotiated two paid sick days per year starting in 2014.”

Also, members who assume the role of Trainer for trainees will receive higher pay allowances.

While regular assigned engineers and conductor jobs were guaranteed under the existing agreement, the BLET was finally able to add a guaranteed Extra Board, as well. It is 40-hours per week and includes an advertised rest day. “This was a big move for our employer,” Brother Martin said. “Extra Boards used to operate on an hourly window as a goal for determining the size of the boards. Now they are all guaranteed and have a rest day included — without penalty.”

He characterized the negotiations with NYS&W as respectful by both parties. “With the NYS&W there are no corporate schemes,” Brother Martin said. “The railroad made the process run smoother because they made their intentions clear and were willing to show their workforce respect through compromise and improvements, not givebacks.”

More Work Ahead

In spite of the three new contracts, Brother Martin said the General Committee’s work is not yet done.

“While finishing three agreements with three separate carriers in just seven weeks seems like a reflection of pride, our goal is targeted in finishing an agreement at the National Mediation Board with the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad,” Brother Martin said. “Our mediation has been three years running and we cannot be satisfied until our Brothers and Sisters working on the WNY&P hold their first contract.”

The WNY&P workers voted to join the Brotherhood in late 2008.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

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