As baseball season is upon us, negotiators for the Teamsters and YRC Freight units are in the bottom of the ninth inning in their attempt to nail down a new five-year labor contract.
Both labor and management are under strong pressure to hit a home run in the YRC talks. The Teamsters would like to restore a 15 percent wage and 75 percent cut in pension concessions made a decade ago in order to lay claim to what Teamsters President James P. “Jim” Hoffa calls “North America’s strongest union.”
The company is under pressure as it struggles to restore profitability in even what the union concedes is a “cutthroat” LTL market place. YRC, and especially its regional units, are susceptible to freight diversion by skittish shippers the closer the talks continue to the March 31 deadline.
But as officials for UPS could attest, sometimes the Teamsters require extra innings in order to be satisfied. But that contract still is not in place because of fine print involving “supplemental” side agreements with certain locals.
Fifty-four percent of the ballots were "no" votes. But under a Teamster rule, a rejection requires two-thirds of the voters to vote down the contract when less than half of eligible members participated in the vote.
First, the latest on the Teamsters-YRC contract that was set to expire on March 31.
Bargaining resumed in mid-March for a new National Master Freight Agreement regarding long-haul YRC Freight and its regional LTL subsidiaries, Holland, and New Penn.
Even if talks go past March 31, there is little chance of any work stoppage. In fact, the union is encouraging its 7,000 or so YRC members to “perform their jobs, work hard and be the professionals that they are,” according to an internal memo sent to members.
Not surprisingly, money is the big issue. Detailed economic proposals are the heart of discussions. But at press time, both sides were without an agreement over about what the long-term wage and benefit package needs to be to retain and attract drivers, dockworkers and other employees with the three companies.
“The union believes the pool of available money needs to expand if we are to conclude these talks on time,” Teamsters negotiating co-chairman Ernie Soehl said in a statement posted online.
“We’ve offered significant operational improvements to grow each company in the expanding e-commerce world and addressed inefficiencies that hinder the growth of each company. We believe those changes are being undervalued by the companies.”
The union said it was “very disappointed” in the YRC companies’ positions but the parties are still at the bargaining table.
“We knew these discussions would be tough and they most certainly are,” Soehl added. “If we are ultimately to reach a new tentative agreement this month, however, the companies will need to acknowledge what it takes to hire and retain top-notch drivers and other high-quality workers which are still in short supply.
After several sessions with what Soehl labeled “vigorous debate between each side’s accountants and economists” armed with information, there still was no agreement.
“We acknowledge the companies continue to face financial challenges in the cutthroat LTL marketplace,” Soehl said. “But our members too have faced significant economic hardship after a decade of givebacks and are not interested in treading water monetarily, seeing changes to their health care, or erosion of standards.”
The Teamsters realize the union operates in an industry that is 95 percent non-union – compared to the days prior to deregulation when trucking was 95 percent union. Recently, New England Motor Freight, once the 17th-largest LTL carrier, and 10 subsidiaries declared bankruptcy, throwing as many as 4,000 International Association of Machinists members into the unemployment line at least temporarily.
At UPS, Hoffa is mulling whether to declare the contract covering 275,000 of his members in effect despite several supplemental agreements being voted down. It’s the second time that locals had rejected supplements and riders to the national agreement that was approved 54-46 last year.
The contract establishes a two-tier wage structure for the first time at UPS – when and if it is ever fully in place.