BLE, I&O sign first contract agreement

BLE members on the Indiana & Ohio Railway ratified their first collective bargaining agreement on February 28 by an overwhelming majority.

The BLE first organized the I&O, a shortline subsidiary of RailAmerica, on August 3, 2001. Of the ballots returned, 78 percent voted in favor of the agreement.

BLE International President Don Hahs acknowledged the efforts of everyone involved and thanked International Vice-President Merle Geiger for his efforts throughout the intense negotiations. Vice-President Geiger has led negotiations for the past several months. The contract provides for increased pay, profit sharing, and a benefits package. It also establishes work rules and a formal process to address grievances with management.

"I am very happy for our members on the Indiana & Ohio Railway as they finally have a contract," Vice-President Geiger said. "They have ratified a contract that establishes a sound foundation for today and future contracts on that property. Our I&O members are no longer 'at will' employees. They now have the protections provided by a Class 1 discipline rule. The contract provides them with a vehicle to address their grievances with management.

"We were able to address many of our members' concerns including reasonable wage increases, a return to profit sharing, settlement of the court action regarding profit sharing payments that have been suspended since the BLE gained representation rights as all withheld monies will be paid, much needed work rules, and locked down an excellent benefits package. And, in so doing, also addressed management's concerns over flexibilities they deemed necessary to remain competitive in the shortline environment."

Vice-President Geiger said the negotiations were quite difficult, but the BLE held strong to secure the best possible agreement for its members.

"Initially there was a considerable distrust on both sides of the table, but I believe we were able to open a dialogue that clarified the BLE's understanding of the unique characteristics of the shortline industry, that we wanted to be partners in the railroads future and that our members play a significant role in the future success of the company. All we ask is that our members are compensated fairly, treated fairly and receive the respect they deserve for the dedication, hard work and long hours that they endure for the success of the company.

"Thanks to the members on I&O for their patience and understanding during the negotiation process," he said.

He also recognized the efforts of several BLE Brothers who played an integral role in negotiations.

"This was a very difficult process and we would not have achieved our success if not for the hard work and input from Division 282 Local Chairman Bill Baumiller, Division 281 Committeeman Sam Lowe and Division 281 President Jeff Murray," Vice-President Geiger said. "I would also like to sincerely thank Mo Morrow and Dennis Simmerman of the International Staff for their assistance in these negotiations."

The Indiana & Ohio is a 492-mile shortline, which runs from Flat Rock, Mich., to Cincinnati, Ohio, hauling mostly soda ash, limestone, automobiles, trucks, lumber, chemicals and various industrial products. It is one of 39 shortline railroads owned by RailAmerica, which calls itself the world's largest shortline railroad operator. RailAmerica owns nearly 11,000 miles of track in four countries on three continents.

From left: Ed Rodzwicz, First Vice-President; Sam E. Lowe, Local Chairman of Division 281 (Lima, Ohio); Don Hahs, International President; Bill Baumiller, Local Chairman of BLE Division 282 (Cincinnati, Ohio); and Merle Geiger, International Vice-President.

Signing the contract, from left, are: Bill Baumiller, Local Chairman of BLE Division 282 (Cincinnati, Ohio); Mick Burkhardt, Vice-President of RailAmerica's Midwest Region; and Sam E. Lowe, Local Committee of Adjustment Member for Division 281 (Lima, Ohio). The Indiana & Ohio is one of several shortline railroads that comprise RailAmerica's Midwest Region.



© 2003 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers