March 2, 2009: A proposed merger of California Local 896 that would have threatened that local’s proud history of winning strong contracts is now on hold.
The news comes just as the Committee to Save Local 896 was preparing their next action. Members spoke up to save their local and made it happen.
For months, Local 896 officials were deep in talks with Local 848 head Jim Santangelo about merging the two locals.
But now the merger has been abruptly put on hold. At the February union meeting, Local Secretary-Treasurer Rene Medrano reversed himself and announced that all merger talks with Local 848 were over—and no merger was in the works.
Local 896 is based in Los Angeles and represents 3,000 brewery and soft-drink workers across California.
When the merger was proposed in December, Medrano brought Santangelo to the L.A. Anheuser-Busch brewery to sell the deal. Santangelo was back at the January Local 896 meeting—and faced tough questions from Local 896 members.
At the Local 896 meeting on Feb. 22., Medrano didn’t mention the merger even once in his half hour long report.
Medrano only admitted that the merger had fallen through after a member asked him point-blank about it. He appeared to have no intention of discussing the merger until he was asked.
Medrano explained that if the merger went through, employees of the local would go into an inferior health and welfare plan—a pretty weak excuse.
Meanwhile, at the Local 848 meeting on the same day, Santangelo refused to admit defeat and said that he still hoped the merger would go through.
Power of Information
As soon as they heard the rumor of a possible merger, Local 896 Teamsters sprang into action and formed the Committee to Save Local 896.
Members at Coke and Pepsi had bargained side-by-side with Santangelo before—and saw him negotiate inferior contracts in their industry.
The committee produced educational bulletins that explained to members what they could expect in a local headed by Santangelo.
They let members hear from Local 848 members. They circulated information from the Independent Review Board and Election Officer that showed Santangelo made an illegal loan to himself and intimidated members who disagreed with him.
The Local 896 members made it clear that they were going to have a voice in this merger—and they are going to stay prepared to spring into action if any future discussions take place.
The Local 896 members who worked so hard to keep their local proud and independent are a good example of what members can do when they get informed and get organized.
February 27, 2009: The Baltimore Local 355 pension is no longer frozen, thanks to hundreds of working Teamsters who took action and demanded improvement.
But Local 355 officials have raised benefits only a fraction of the former amount—and added a penalty for Teamsters who retire early.
On Feb. 18, the Local 355 pension fund trustees announced they are re-instating a modest pension accrual, effective March 1, 2009 through the end of the year.
Last year, Local 355 pension trustees cut the accrual rate to zero and froze the Baltimore pension. That means Baltimore Teamsters earned zero toward their retirement for their past year of work.
Over the past year, hundreds of Baltimore Teamsters signed petitions, passed out flyers and spoke up at union meetings demanding an end to the freeze. Their voices have been heard.
Freeze Over, Deep Cuts RemainThe Baltimore pension is unfrozen, but deep cuts are still in place.
For UPS Teamsters, the new accrual rate is $61.56, for a three-quarter year period. Compare that to the accrual rate before the cut, $191 a year—that’s a 57 percent cut.
The new accrual rate is even lower for Teamsters at U.S. Foods and other companies with lower contribution rates in the fund.
Worse, the trustees have added a new penalty for early retirement.
Currently, UPS Teamsters can retire at age 50. Under the new plan, UPS Teamsters who retire early will take a cut of half a percent for every month prior to age 55. This penalty only applies to pension accrued after March 1, 2009.
That means a Teamster retiring at age 50 under the new plan will lose a 30 percent penalty on all pension accrued after March 1 of this year. Just for this year’s accrual alone, that’s a $221 cut every year, for life.
“My biggest fear is that, over time, this new system will effectively eliminate early retirement,” said Kenny Walker, a Local 355 package car driver. “Many older drivers have enough pension accrued to retire with a decent pension at age 50. But what about younger members?
“Our local needs a plan to raise the accrual and drop the penalty so that younger members can retire with a decent pension at a reasonable age, too. If they have a plan to do that, they haven’t mentioned it.”
Taylor Admits Mistakes
At the union meeting in January, Local 355 principal officer Denis Taylor admitted that he made a mistake, when the local pension fund cut members accrual rate to zero last year.
Taylor said that the cuts had failed to fix the problem with the pension. And he complained that many employers were angry at him for cutting their employees’ pension.
Members Mobilized For Improvement
When the cuts were first announced, members mobilized.
Hundreds of members signed a petition demanding a Pension Bill of Rights and the right to earn money toward their pension for their work.
Members organized a rank-and-file group, 355 Members United, to coordinate their fight. They launched a website and spread out over the local to push for an end to the pension freeze.
“The members of Local 355 worked hard to beat this cut, and they deserve the credit for this change,” said Ron Reinhardt, a steward at UPS. “We’ve won a battle, but the war isn’t over. We’re going to keep building 355 Members United and fight for a decent pension.”
Chipping Away at Early Retirement
“My biggest fear is that, over time, this new system will effectively eliminate early retirement.
“Our local needs a plan to raise the accrual and drop the penalty so that younger members can retire with a decent pension at a reasonable age.”
Kenny Walker, UPS
Local 355, Baltimore
Members Get the Credit
“The members of Local 355 worked hard to beat this cut, and they deserve the credit for this change.
“We’ve won a battle, but the war isn’t over. We’re going to keep building 355 Members United and fight for a decent pension.”
Ron Reinhardt, UPS
Local 355, Baltimore
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March 2, 2009: The good news is that the starting wage for UPS part-timers in Washington State has gone up. The bad news is that the raise is only a nickel—and it took a hike in the state minimum wage to make it happen.
That’s right. The minimum wage in Washington State is now higher than the starting wage in the biggest Teamster contract. As of Jan. 1, the minimum wage in Washington is $8.55. The starting rate for part-timers is $8.50. What an embarrassment.
The minimum wage in several more states will top the starting wage for part-timers before the end of the contract, including California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts,. Oregon and Vermont.
The starting wage for part-timers was cut to $8 in 1982. That wage has gone up only once since then: after the 1997 strike. If wages had kept pace with inflation, the starting wage for part-timers today would be more than $18.
Starting wages competing with the minimum wage—and no healthcare for the first year (18 months for family coverage).
No wonder UPS is eliminating full-time combo jobs and using part-time labor instead.
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