vre_logo_webMembers of the SMART Transportation Division employed by Keolis Rail Services ratified a new three-year agreement June 7 to continue service on the Virginia Railway Express trains operating between Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Of the ballots returned, 78 percent were in favor of the new pact.

On VRE, the SMART TD represents conductors, assistant conductors and a new class of employees termed ACE, which is a designation applied to conductors or assistant conductors who volunteer to be trained and qualified as locomotive engineers.

The new agreement calls for annual pay increases of 2.5 percent, with the first wage increase to be applied July 1, 2013. It also pays per-trip compensation for required conductor certification. The payment will apply to all certified conductors working in either a conductor or assistant conductor position and the payment will double June 15, 2015.

“When coupled with the increases already received from the date of the last contract, the wage increases will meet the industry standard of nearly 15 percent over five years,” said Amtrak GO 769 General Chairperson Dirk Sampson, who served as leader of the SMART TD’s negotiating team.

In addition, employees covered under the agreement will receive a $1,000 signing bonus on or after June 15, 2013.

On the effective date, employees’ contributions to health care premiums will be $180 per month, with a cap of $198 per month over the life of the agreement.

“Overall, the negotiating team believes the agreement meets industry standards. The percentages are comparable to other properties, the signing bonus and certification pay are generous, and the ACE compensation is a significant benefit to those who wish to be trained as an engineer,” Sampson said.

The negotiating team consisted of Sampson, District of Columbia State Legislative Director and Local 1933 Chairperson Willie Bates and Local 1933 Vice Chairperson Lamar Bates.

“The negotiating team is to be commended for doing an excellent job of bringing the needs and desires of the membership to the negotiating table,” said SMART TD Assistant President John Previsich, who assisted with the negotiations. “With their input, numerous agreement issues were resolved along with the compensation package, resulting in an agreement that meets or exceeds industry standards in every respect,” Previsich said.

Keolis Rail Services took over operation of VRE commuter trains from Amtrak July 12, 2010, after VRE signed a five-year, $85-million contract with the rail services manager in 2009.

Conductors and assistant conductors were protected under an agreement negotiated July 9, 2010, by the UTU President’s Department.

At that time, according to news reports, all but one Amtrak employee working VRE trains chose to remain with Amtrak, forcing Keolis to hire and train new conductors, assistant conductors and engineers for the VRE operation. Keolis said then that the new conductors were veterans of freight and other rail passenger operations in the U.S.

VRE was Keolis’ first venture into U.S. rail contract operations, although the company transports some two billion bus and rail passengers annually in 13 countries, mostly in Europe. According to trusted sources, the company is seeking to expand its U.S. operations and is an active participant in bidding for other services.

Amtrak LogoContract talks on Amtrak are continuing, General Chairperson Dirk Sampson reports. 

“As these negotiations are ongoing and sensitive, I am not a liberty to release the details,” he said. 

“My main priority with Amtrak is getting this contract settled,” Sampson said. “Mediation talks are ongoing. Currently, mediation sessions are scheduled for Feb. 13 and 14 and March 20 and 21. We are still trying to resolve a few difficult issues. The negotiation team will continue to press its demands with the assistance and guidance of Assistant President John Previsich.”