Contract Dispute Could Force Insurance Group to Drop Ritzy Greenbrier Resort

By | May 20, 2008

A labor-management dispute at a luxury resort in West Virginia is forcing the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers — a longtime customer — to search for alternate venues for its conferences.

The group of commercial insurance agents and executives has also resorted to local newspaper ads urging a resolution of the management-labor rift.

The group has already had to move two meetings– its Employee Benefits Leadership Forum and its Wholesale Forum– from The Greenbrier, a high-end resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

The group is now staring at the prospect of also relocating its flagship Insurance Leadership Forum scheduled for October from The Greenbrier.

Ken A. Crerar, president of the CIAB, said his organization has booked its Insurance Leadership Forum at The Greenbrier resort for 95 years running. That legacy hangs in the balance if the two sides don’t settle their differences and get back to work with a contract in place, Crerar added.

Due to the dispute, CIAB moved its employee benefits conference to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., which like The Greenbrier can be reached from the Roanoke airport. But that site will not work for the October gathering.

“The Homestead is not large enough to accommodate us so we’re looking at alternate sites,” Crerar said. “The problem for us is risking being at the meeting (at Greenbrier) when the strike occurs.”

He said CIAB will decide by June 2 whether to relocate the October forum. By that date CIAB wants to be assured that the parties have come to terms so that service will be available come October.

In an effort to avoid the hassle of relocating its forum, CIAB has run advertisements in West Virginia newspapers urging the opposing sides to come to an agreement or watch the recurring business from CIAB dry up. In a scolding tone, the ads advised The Greenbrier to be proactive.

“As your largest and most loyal customer, we urge you both to get back to the table continuously until you have resolved your issues,” CIAB wrote in an ad that appeared the Roanoke Times.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization also ran the full-page advertisements in The Register-Herald in Beckley and The West Virginia Daily News in Lewisburg.

Greenbrier spokeswoman Lynn Swann said Greenbrier officials and the Council of Labor Unions held talks May 14 and negotiations will resume May 29.

While contracts covering about 1,100 union workers expired March 1, employees have continued working.

Along with the labor uncertainty, executive problems have also been brewing at The Greenbrier. The former president has been speaking publicly about his ouster for the first time since being fired from the resort in September, 2007.

Paul Ratchford told the Beckley-based Register-Herald newspaper he was fired for making changes such as extending discounts to all employees rather than just current and retired executives with CSX Corp., the Florida-based railroad that owns the resort. Ratchford said he also upset CSX by eliminating perks such as employee parking.

Ratchford filed a $50 million lawsuit against CSX in March. While he didn’t want to sue, Ratchford said that he and his family have been injured.

Court action in the suit is scheduled to begin June 9.

The Associated Press contributed to this article

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