Concessions as Union Strategy

August 5, 2008: Over the past year, the International Union has signed four national contracts in the trucking industry, covering nearly 350,000 Teamsters—setting the pattern for many more.

In each case, the Hoffa administration gave our largest Teamster employers record givebacks. The 2008 contracts are the most concessionary master agreements in the history of the Teamsters Union.

We need to understand why this happened, and what we can do to stop future concessions and build a stronger Teamsters Union.

No one will deny that times are tough. But the 2008 concessionary contracts were not caused by the weak economy or industry problems.

If failing companies were the reason our negotiators agreed to concessions, our union would not have given billions in givebacks to UPS when the company was making record after-tax profits of more than $4 billion a year.

Jim Hoffa, Ken Hall, and other top Teamster negotiators did not turn to concessions as a last resort. They adopted concessions as a strategy—one that they implemented at UPS, freight, DHL and in carhaul.

In each case, our union agreed to trade away bedrock contract standards in exchange for the union getting new members—or just maintaining membership—under declining standards.

Concessions at UPS

Our International Union negotiated the UPS contract—telling members that early talks were needed to protect members’ benefits. In reality, chief negotiators Jim Hoffa and Ken Hall had a different goal in mind: trading away the historic gains of the 1997 UPS strike in exchange for the right to organize UPS Freight.

Hoffa and Hall negotiated a deal that let the company take 44,000 Teamsters in 25 states out of the Central States Pension Fund. That concession saved the company billions by sticking those Teamsters with a pension that will be far below Teamster plans by the end of the contract.

Hoffa and Hall also gave away the contract language that requires the company to eliminate low-wage part-time jobs and create full-time jobs in their place.

In exchange for these and other givebacks, UPS agreed to allow unionization of UPS Freight. That’s a positive gain. But working Teamsters even got the short end of this deal. Our union agreed to put UPS Freight under a substandard contract that undermines our National Master Freight Agreement.

Through UPS Freight, UPS is now in position to take work from Teamster freight carriers.

The IBT Freight Division wasn’t happy with splitting the pension fund, or with giving UPS Freight a sub-par contract. Their concerns were brushed aside.

Have Concessions Worked?

Once the mighty UPS cleaned up at the concession stand, the other employers were ready to do the same business with the Hoffa administration.

At DHL, our union gave the corporation its number one goal: part-time labor.

The union’s pitch was that now the company would grow. But, just two months after the contract was approved, management started laying-off full-time Teamsters, and offering them to come back as part-timers!

DHL also agreed to allow unionization at gateways and hubs. But now they are cutting back or closing those facilities. So the concession strategy here has been a terrible failure in short order.

In the freight contract, the corporations got total control over working conditions and a new “utility” classification. And they got the ability to hire low-wage part-time labor. Due to the recession, not many have been hired yet.

Teamster members are voting on the most concessionary contract of all, the carhaul agreement, as we go to press. Our negotiators did not swap concessions for more dues-paying members. They surrendered decades of union gains without securing anything that will position our union to organize the nonunion competition in the industry.

The Foundation of Union Power

Strong national contracts and Teamster pensions are the foundation of our union’s power.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), along with other Teamster leaders and members, have opposed Hoffa’s concessionary contracts because they hurt working Teamsters in the short term and make it harder to preserve industry standards and organize the nonunion competition over the long haul.

Our union is at its best when we inform, involve and unite Teamster members to put some muscle behind our bargaining demands—and when we take on corporate greed in a way that not only protects members, but inspires nonunion workers to support the labor movement—and want to become a part of it.

The 1997 UPS contract is a classic example of this strategy.

Get Involved

The 2008 bargaining round will be remembered as the year that top Teamster officials officially adopted concessions as a bargaining strategy.

Teamster members who don’t like the direction our union took in 2008 can either complain about it—or get involved in pushing for a new direction.

At Teamsters for a Democratic Union, we are already preparing for the next bargaining round. We are building national networks of Teamsters at UPS, freight, DHL, carhaul and in other jurisdictions to share strategies for enforcing our contracts, defeating future concessions, and winning stronger agreements in the future.

If you’re a concerned Teamster, we want to hear your ideas and we want you to get involved. Join TDU.

Attend a local meeting or our upcoming TDU Convention.

Isolated, we are weak. But united, we can protect what we’ve got and rebuild union power.


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