June 12--Members of the locomotive engineers union at Metra have approved a new contract that gives them a cumulative wage increase totaling 21.2 percent over seven years, union officials said Wednesday.
The agreement, which runs through 2019, provides for five general wage increases and two retroactive payments to 2012, according to the union.
The contract covers about 200 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen who work on Metra-owned and -operated routes, including the Rock Island, Metra Electric, Heritage Corridor, North Central Service, SouthWest Service, and Milwaukee District North and West lines.
Dennis Pierce, the union's national president, said in a statement that the agreement was "the best possible contract with wage and bonus increases and maintained our level of excellent benefits."
Metra Chairman Martin Oberman called the contract reasonable because the outlay for Metra works out to about 2.5 percent a year, when cost savings that the union agreed to were factored in.
"That's a pretty modest increase," Oberman said. "These are the people we rely on to drive the trains safely. I don't what to shortchange them; I want to pay them what they are worth."
Metra characterized the agreement as slightly more favorable for the rail line than the national contract that union engineers approved in 2012. That agreement covers the BNSF and Union Pacific railroads, which run four of Metra's lines.
A Tribune analysis of a Metra employee salary database shows that the average compensation for Metra engineers was about $94,000 in 2012.
By comparison, engineers for Philadelphia's Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, earn an average of $95,290 a year, according to that agency, which is embroiled in a potential strike situation.
In April, Metra gave more than 450 of its nonunion employees raises averaging about 8 percent to bring their salaries in line with the marketplace, Metra Executive Director Don Orseno said.
Metra "had to pay people appropriately. We were losing qualified people," Orseno said.
Metra and the engineers union concluded negotiations this spring. The agreement was submitted to the union for ratification May 19, but the results were not released until Tuesday.
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