CSX seeking line sale/lease in West Virginia
According to recent articles by the Associated Press and the Huntington Dispatch, CSX Transportation has put up for bid or lease two major routes in West Virginia and western Maryland, potentially affecting as many as 250 union jobs.
Many railroad employees, including locomotive engineers and trainmen, would be forced to either relocate to other routes on CSX or to go to work for the shortline railroad(s) that may purchase or lease the lines, presumably at lower rates of pay and with less benefits.
Don Hahs, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said the BLET is opposed to such a sale or lease.
"We must do everything in our power to retain the union jobs that so many worked so hard to achieve," Hahs said. "With good union jobs either disappearing or going overseas at an alarming rate, we must fight to keep the good railroad jobs we have."
As devastating as this sale or lease could be to CSX employees, United Transportation Union spokesman Frank Wilner said that the UTU "would not necessarily oppose" the lease or sale of the line.
The UTU spokesman also attempted to downplay the significance of nonunion shortlines by stating that, "the UTU holds more shortline labor contracts than all other unions combined."
The BLET President responded by saying that shortline workers are usually paid less and have lesser benefits than Class 1 workers, so a move to replace Class 1 operations with shortline operations would be have a negative impact on workers. He also noted that the BLE/BLET has successfully organized more shortline railroads in the past two years than any other union.
"While organizing shortlines is an important goal of the BLET, we cannot sit idly by and watch the erosion of our Class 1 carriers' to the short-lines that offer lower pay and less benefits," President Hahs said. "The BLET is working hard to improve the pay and working conditions of shortline employees, but we don't want to sacrifice Class 1 jobs for shortline operations."
President Hahs said that the proposed sale or lease appears to be driven by the forces of Wall Street, and may not be in the best interests of safety.
"I believe CSX's attempts to sell or lease these lines says something about the railroad's financial well-being," President Hahs said. "Perhaps if CSX had not paid $68 million to former CEO John Snow, then the railroad would be in better financial shape today.
"From our understanding, there is a great deal of coal reserves in those mountains of West Virginia, and prospects for the future look good. Therefore, I cannot understand why CSX would want to sell or lease the lines in question. Many of the locomotive engineers and trainmen in that region are fourth and fifth generation railroaders, and it is their professionalism and skill that makes the trains run safe in the mountainous terrain. If operators of a shortline think they can come in and just hire someone off the street to fill these jobs, then they are just kidding themselves."
© 2004 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen