BNA Daily Labor Report: Amtrak Engineers Ratify Contract

April 1, 2008: Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have ratified a collective bargaining agreement with Amtrak covering approximately 1,300 locomotive engineers, the union announced March 28.

Representatives of Amtrak and the union signed the tentative agreement Feb. 19, and ratification ballots were due March 28 (43 DLR A-8, 3/5/08) . The contract covers engineers who operate passenger trains throughout the 21,000-mile, 46-state Amtrak system, the union said.

BLET said it counted the ballots March 28, with a final tally of 809-138 in favor of ratification.

Mark Kenny, general chairman of BLET, urged union members in a Feb. 29 letter to vote in favor of ratification. He said the contract "significantly improves hourly rate wages, placing them in proximity of the highest paid passenger/commuter services in the rail industry" and "sets employee cost contributions levels for [health and welfare] benefits consistent with today's industry standards."

The newly ratified contract replaces one that became amendable Jan. 1, 2000, and is based on the recommendations of the presidential emergency board established to resolve collective bargaining disputes between Amtrak and eight other rail unions, BLET said. That contract was ratified March 10 (49 DLR A-7, 3/13/08).

The new contract becomes amendable Jan. 1, 2010. Under the Railway Labor Act, collective bargaining agreements become amendable but do not expire.

The agreement provides for a wage improvement package amounting to a 34.7 percent increase over the hourly rate in effect at the end of the last agreement, 100 percent retroactive pay recovery, and no work-rule changes, BLET said.

The contract provides for retroactive wage increases for all engineers who were on Amtrak's payroll as of Dec. 1, 2007. Those workers are eligible for retroactive pay for all time-based compensation under the previous agreement between July 1, 2002, and the date of the first general wage increase of the new agreement paid in 2008.

The contract also provides that 27 cents per hour of the previous contract's cost-of-living allowance will be rolled into the new basic pay rates. All cost-of-living allowance payments in excess of 27 cents made after July 1, 2002, will be recovered from the retroactive payments.

BLET said 40 percent of the total retroactive amount due to eligible employees will be paid within 60 days of the contract's ratification, with the remaining 60 percent to be paid on or before the first anniversary date of the first payment. Union members who believe Amtrak's retroactive calculation to be incorrect will have the right to challenge the figure, the union said.

The new agreement also sets the monthly rate that employees must pay for employee and dependent health care coverage at $166.25, and requires that employees pay retroactive health premiums for each year of the contract dating back to July 1, 2001. The premium payment scale begins at $33.39 per month and increases to the $166.25 rate for premiums in 2008. These payments will be deducted from the retroactive wages that will be paid to workers.

Cost-sharing contributions for health care will increase over the life of the agreement, but are capped at $200 or the July 1, 2009, cost-sharing contribution amount--calculated as one-twelfth of 15 percent of the per employee cost for health care coverage for the prior calendar year--whichever is greater.

Previously, BLET members rejected a June 20 tentative agreement with Amtrak by a vote of 587-305 (184 DLR A-12, 9/24/07 ).

Representatives of BLET were not immediately available for comment.

An Amtrak spokeswoman told BNA that the railroad company had informed all of its employees of the ratification vote results, and that an implementation schedule would be finalized once the agreement is signed.

The collective bargaining agreement between BLET and Amtrak is available on the Internet at http://www.bletamt.org/contract-08.htm .


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