April 24, 2009: A part of the federal stimulus package that pays 65% of a laid-off worker’s health coverage cost can benefit thousands of laid-off Teamsters.
The new provision went into effect on February 17, 2009, when President Obama signed the stimulus package. Teamsters on layoff, or who have involuntarily lost their jobs (other than through gross misconduct) are eligible to have 65% of their health and welfare payments waived.
For those covered by Teamster H&W plans, the plan will reduce your weekly or monthly premiums by 65%, and the plan will be reimbursed by the federal government. The same applies for Teamsters who have employer-provided health care coverage.
The coverage applies to anyone who becomes laid off or out of work before the end of 2009, and extends for nine months of benefits. Benefits can be intermittent, if you are temporarily recalled to work.
This benefit is available to anyone who is involuntarily laid off and who loses health care coverage between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009. The benefit is not retroactive, but begins on the first COBRA period after the law became effective, which for most Teamsters may be March 1, 2009.
Many laid-off Teamsters are struggling to get one to three days per week of on-call work to pay for their health and welfare benefits. Now, some may be able to take a full lay-off and at least maintain health benefits for their families.
For details about how this benefit could affect you, contact your health and welfare plan.
For background and FAQs on the new benefit, see information here from the Central States Health & Welfare Fund.
October 10, 2008: New retiree healthcare cuts in Virginia Joint Council 83 will make it harder for members to take early retirement.
Starting Jan. 1, 2009, new retirees with less than 30 years of accrued service will only receive a maximum of eight years of retiree healthcare coverage.
Retirees already pay for their coverage in Virginia—but after eight years they’ll be totally cut off from retiree healthcare coverage, no matter how much they’re willing to pay.
That means people taking 25-and-Out will have to wait until they’re at least 57 to retire if they want to keep healthcare coverage until they’re eligible for Medicare.
Members with more than 30 years of accrued service will be unaffected.
Members can go on and off the Joint Council 83 healthcare plan and break up the eight years of coverage. But if they are not covered by another plan during the time they are off the Joint Council plan, they lose their right to return to the Teamster plan.
Plus, there’s no change in the Joint Council 83 re-employment rules, to give retirees more options to get healthcare coverage.
Click here to download the letter from the fund detailing the cut.
TDU and our union fought in the 1990s to win 25-and-Out early retirement benefits. Now many health and welfare plans are making it harder to take advantage of this good Teamster benefit.
What do you think our union should to protect early retirement? Click here to send a comment or a question to TDU’s Pension Network.
Stay in the loop. Click here to get email updates from TDU’s Pension Network.
March 4, 2008: Once again, employers are pushing to make it harder for workers to take time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
On February 11, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued proposals for new rules that would open loopholes for employers to deny leave to workers who need to take time for an illness or to take care of a family member.
These proposed rules are still under consideration. Now is the time for working Teamsters to speak up to preserve our FMLA rights. Click here to download bulletin you can post to let other Teamsters know about the proposed changes.
Currently, an employee must give the employer verbal notice of why they are taking leave, and how long they expect to be out.
Under the new rules, an employee would have to tell the employer:
- Why they are taking leave and how long they expect to be out;
- That they cannot perform their job functions or that a family member cannot perform his or her daily activities;
- Whether or not they intend to visit a healthcare provider.
If an employee forgets any one of these magic words, the employer could deny their FMLA leave.
Another rule under consideration would make it harder for workers with chronic health problems—like back pain or asthma—to take intermittent leave.
The new rule would require a detailed back-to-work fitness report from a doctor every thirty days—even if a worker took only one or two days leave in that period. Workers on intermittent leave could have to get as many as 12 fitness reports a year.
And under the new fitness report guidelines, the doctor would have to certify that the employee can perform each and every one of a list of job duties set by the employer—another loophole for employers to discipline employees who take leave under the FMLA.
Under the current rules, when a doctor’s note is required, the doctor only has to give a simple statement that the employee is able to return to work.
Working Teamsters can help stop employers from watering down the FMLA.
The Department of Labor is accepting comments on the new proposals until April 11 on their website. Click here to submit a comment to the US Department of Labor.
Help spread the word. Click here to download a flyer you can post and distribute to other Teamsters.
I am writing to comment on the new FMLA proposals that are currently under consideration as final regulations. I am a covered employee under the FMLA, and I am concerned that the new regulations will make it more difficult for me to take qualified leave.
Two new proposed regulations would make it harder for employees to exercise their right to leave under the FMLA.
The new regulations under sections 29 CFR Sections 825.302(b) and 303(b) are too technical and detailed, and could give employers an opportunity to make an excuse to deny leave to workers that qualify for the leave, by requiring employees to say the “magic words” to properly notify employers of their leave.
The proposed Section 310(g) would also make it harder for workers to use the leave to which they are entitled. By requiring a fitness report for even one day off work, this new rule would make it harder for workers who suffer from chronic ailments to take intermittent leave.
I urge you to re-consider these regulations.
A study by TDU of truck safety whistleblower cases shows that a member awareness campaign by the Teamsters Union could drastically boost the number of complaints filed, and won, by drivers. This could mean many lives and many Teamsters jobs saved.
Section 31105 of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) protects drivers (and some other motor carrier employees, such as mechanics) from retaliation over reporting truck safety problems. OSHA is charged with the power to investigate and make initial rulings on complaints.
The law was enacted in 1983. Yet, for the first eight years of its existence, often as few as 10 cases per year were filed. Few drivers were aware of the law, due to a nearly complete failure on the part of OSHA to publicize its protections. And until 1993, the IBT also kept drivers in the dark.
Info From IBT in Early 1990s Made Big Difference
In 1994 and 1995 the number of cases jumped significantly (to 150 and 317 respectively). This tenfold increase over several years followed on the heels of an education effort by the Carey administration, spurred by TDU’s own efforts. The IBT produced a brochure and publicized the case of Ohio Yellow Freight driver Willie Smith. Yellow fired Smith for refusing to drive while fatigued. He went on to win reinstatement and a large monetary award.
Since then, drivers have filed over 250 complaints each year. Over the 17-year life of the law, a total of 1,970 complaints have been filed.
A majority of the complaints address retaliation over refusal to drive. For example, in the year 2000 nearly half (109) dealt with refusal to drive. Unfortunately, OSHA could not provide more specific information, such as the number of refusal cases that involve driver fatigue.
The numbers do show that union members are far more likely to make use of rights like the STAA. During 1995, drivers filed 38 complaints against Roadway, four against UPS, four against CF and seven against Yellow Freight. For the same year only one complaint was filed at Overnite, and zero filed at Saia.
Taking advantage of important rights is clearly another advantage of working union.
OSHA Rules Favorably on Minority of Cases
What happens to the complaints after being filed is instructive. OSHA routinely dismisses well over 40 percent of the complaints filed. In 2000, the figure was 69 percent.
Add to these figures complaints that are withdrawn voluntarily, and it is clear that OSHA finds a minority of cases to have merit (31 percent average since 1983). True, some complaints may not have a sound basis. And some lose due to technicalities like failing to file on time.
But what we have learned over the years is that OSHA will generally take on the cases that are near-certain winners. And according to OSHA investigators, poor documentation sinks many cases. Keep notes, records and other documents and your complaint will have a better chance of winning in the early stages of the process.
Many Win on Appeal
Many dismissed cases can still prevail (and often do). So it is important to be prepared to take your case to a hearing if OSHA rejects it.
Roughly 600 cases (or 30 percent of the total filed) were appealed beyond OSHA and ruled on for the years 1983-2000. Nailing down the win-loss ratio at this level is much more difficult, as cases can drag on for a number years, get settled or get appealed to higher bodies.
Based on the experience of TDU members, however, many cases go on to win when they are taken to a hearing after OSHA declines to act.
TDU Education Campaign
No one knows exactly how many instances there are each year of employers retaliating against employees over truck safety. But one thing is certain: the number far exceeds the roughly 250 complaints that actually get filed.
So there is still much work to be done to get the word out about this important safety and job protection.
In the absence of any effort on the part of the current Teamsters Union, TDU has kicked off a campaign to inform Teamsters of the law, and how to make the most of it. TDUs new publication, The STAA Handbook, is the only detailed guide to the law.
You can help educate co-workers about their rights under the STAA. Order copies of the handbook and encourage others to do the same. Contact TDU about conducting a workshop on the law. And help distribute articles like this one from Convoy Dispatch.
The information in this article is based on records obtained from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration through a Freedom of Information Act request.