by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | July 01, 2008

Breathing easier: The Greenbrier After six months of tough negotiations, the 229-year-old Greenbrier resort and the Greenbrier Council of Labor Unions signed a no-strike, no-lockout agreement in late June. The White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., property had lost a significant amount of group revenue as many clients opted to cut and run rather than face the possibility of a union walkout during a meeting or event.

The pact, which allows both sides to move forward in negotiations without the threat of a walkout, will remain in place until Jan. 4, 2009, or until new contracts are signed, whichever comes first.

Labor problems for The Greenbrier, which is owned by Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad giant CSX Corp., began on Jan. 31, when nine union contracts and the master agreement for the resort’s circa 1,100 union employees expired and a strike was authorized, which meant employees could stage a walkout at any time.

In the months that followed, negotiations between Greenbrier officials and the labor council, which represents all nine hotel unions, trudged on with little success, despite the aid of two federal mediators, spurring some groups to cancel or relocate their meetings.

One longtime client, the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, relocated three meetings, including its October annual convention, which alone represents some 3,500 room nights.

“A threat of a walkout is enough to make any self-respecting planner pull the plug,” said CIAB president Ken Crerar before the agreement was reached. He noted that the economic impact of the group’s pullout was “huge,” although he declined to reveal the dollar amount.

A spokesperson for The Greenbrier said the resort did its best during negotiations to provide updates on the labor situation to groups with scheduled meetings.

While the property declined to reveal the scope of lost business, Greenbrier County Commissioner Lowell Rose estimated the figure at $12 million. The resort is Greenbrier County’s main employer, with a work force of 1,600, and generates an average of $600,000 to $700,000 in annual tax revenue for the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

According to Crerar, the need to pull CIAB’s meetings, two of which required relocating 800 attendees to The Homestead nearby, angered him, because the group has a solid 95-year history of meeting at The Greenbrier. The situation prompted him to take out full-page ads in two local newspapers, the Register-Herald and the West Virginia Daily News, urging both sides to resolve their issues and get back to business.

At least for now, they have.