BLET organizes Maine, Montreal & Atlantic shortline

BLET members have approved a new four-year collective bargaining agreement with the New England Central Railroad (NECR).

The agreement provides wage increases of 12 percent over the life of the contract and improved work rules and discipline procedures. About 50 members approved the new contract by a 2-to-1 margin.

"It's the first BLET contract on the property, and I consider it to be an impressive improvement over the old one," said Ben Martin, General Chairman at NECR.

In addition to wage and work rule improvements, the agreement clarifies language to better protect workers' rights.

"We consider the work rule improvements to be a successful victory over a previous agreement, which was riddled with carrier escape clauses," said BLET Vice President Paul Wingo, who helped negotiate the deal.

NECR members had rejected a previous contract proposal in 2005. Negotiations on the latest deal began on Feb. 7, 2006.

"We went back to the table and we were able to improve the wage schedule and certain other benefits," Vice President Wingo said. "We then presented the improved agreement to the membership for a second ratification vote and it was ratified by a 2-to-1 margin."

Joining Vice President Wingo on the negotiating team were NECR General Chairman Ben Martin, Larry LaRocque and Scott Holbrook, who are members of BLET Division 521 (Hawthorne, N.J.).

As part of the agreement, the term "Transportation Specialist" was eliminated and the crafts of Locomotive Engineer and Conductor were identified. The title change was important to BLET members.

"It was a matter of pride," General Chairman Ben Martin said. He noted that the locomotive engineer and conductor crafts were properly named for years until RailTex purchased the railroad in 1995.

The new agreement contains a scope rule that protects the work of locomotive engineers and conductors.

"The new agreement provides protection from remote control," Martin said. "If the carrier ever introduces new technology, then we hold the rights to the work."

The scope rule also prevents the carrier from using contractors and other outside laborers.

"Under the old contract, the carrier got around the closed shop agreement because they had the right to use anyone off the street," Martin said. "They used a lot of contractors, season help and part time help."

Martin said the newly negotiated discipline rule is a vast improvement over the former agreement.

"It spells out the process and establishes rules for appeals and the use of First Division, Public Law Board or Special Board of Adjustment," he said. "The time claim handling rule now spells out the appeals process. It allows for concrete documentation for disputes instead of just word of mouth testimony."

Language regarding the discipline rule was vague in the old contract.

"The phrase, 'but not limited to' appeared throughout the agreement," he said. "It would allow you to be taken out of service for just about anything. Now we have a defined agreement."

All employees certified as Locomotive Engineers will receive the engineer's rate of pay, regardless of what duties they perform.

Members will enjoy various other improvements. Contract language calls for the carrier to pay for members' work boots, and locomotives will be equipped with improved seats that are upholstered, rotate, are adjustable, and have armrests.

"Guys were riding around on toad stools, now we have agreement seats," he said.

The agreement also calls for the carrier to maintain weather-stripping in the locomotives, an important rule considering the cold winters in the region where NECR operates.

"Here in the Northeast, the wind howls in the winter through the cab doors," Martin said.

Members will also enjoy increased meal allowances and improved vacation rules and bereavement rules. The new bereavement rule allows for five paid days off for the loss of an immediate family member and one paid day off for extended family. The new vacation rule allows members to take vacation days in one week increments.

"Some of the guys looked at the contract proposal and said 'we already have this,'" Martin said. "What they failed to realize is that the rules defining their bereavement days were taken from the Rail America handbook and were subject to interpretation by management. Those rights were granted rights that could easily be taken away. Now they are set in stone in the agreement and not subject to change."

BLET members will also enjoy a 401k savings plan at NECR with a company match up to $2,500 per year. Water and ice will also be provided.

Tommy Miller, the BLET's Director of Organizing, helped organize the property, and the workers at NECR voted to join BLET in September of 2004.

The New England Central Railroad (NECR) is a Rail America property in their 11th year of operation after Canadian National sold the former Central Vermont Railroad to RailTex in February of 1995. RailAmerica assumed ownership in 2000.

The NECR owns and operates 330 miles of track from Alburg, Vt., to new London, Conn., hauling primary commodities such as fuel oil, lumber, cement and grain. The NECR interchanges with CN, Pan American Railways (Guilford), CSX, the Vermont Rail System, Clarement and Concord, and the Providence & Worcester Railroad.



© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen