The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) protects drivers' rights to enforce truck safety by making it illegal for a company to discipline, discharge or discriminate against an employee for making a vehicle safety complaint or refusing to operate an unsafe vehicle.
With any law, we need to know the extents and limits of our rights and the Do's and Don'ts of enforcement.
Many activities can trigger protection under the STAA, including, complaining to management about truck safety, filing a grievance about vehicle safety, advising other drivers about DOT regulations, discipline or retaliation over running times, refusing to drive or delays because of bad weather, or refusing to drive in violation of posted speed limits.
Refusing to Drive Unsafe Equipment
Many cases have upheld drivers' right to refuse to drive unsafe equipment. However, two very important conditions must be met:
- The refusal has to be based on a "reasonable apprehension" that operation of the vehicle would present a genuine safety hazard to the driver and/or members of the public.
- The driver has to have asked the employer to correct the problem.
"Reasonable apprehension," as interpreted by the DOL and the courts, means that a reasonable person in the same situation would reach the same conclusion—namely, that the unsafe condition establishes a real danger of accident, injury or serious impairment to health.
If it later turns out that the vehicle was not actually unsafe, you are still protected if your belief is deemed to have been reasonable based on the objective facts and evidence available to you at the time you formed your belief.
You must also give the company a chance to correct the problem. For example, if there is a bad tire say, "I will drive that truck when you replace the tire."
Violations of Federal Motor Carrier Regulations
STAA protection is also triggered if operating the vehicle would result in an actual violation of a DOT regulation (a cracked brake pad, for example). Again, you must make the company aware of the hazard and give them a chance to fix the problem before refusing to drive.
This is an important protection, but it should not be used lightly. If you refuse to drive based only on a technical violation of a federal regulation (such as a faulty marker light) you are only protected if operating the truck would actually violate a motor carrier safety standard, regulation or statute.
A good faith mistake about federal regulations does not win you protection from discipline unless you also had a "reasonable fear" of a genuine hazard. That may or may not apply to technical violations.
You can and should report violations for repairs—and insist that repairs be made. But refusing to drive is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly.
If you have doubts about the severity of a safety problem, you may want to take the truck out for a very short drive (unless the hazard presents an imminent danger) to gather more evidence and demonstrate a good faith effort to operate the vehicle.
Important Contract Language
Article 16 of the National Master Freight Agreement addresses safety issues:
"Employer shall not require employees to take out on the streets or highways any vehicle that is not in safe operating condition, including but not limited to equipment that is acknowledged to be overweight or not equipped with the safety appliances prescribed by law."
The National Master UPS Agreement contains language giving drivers important safety and health protection. Article 18 states:
"In no event shall an employee be required to operate a vehicle/equipment that is unsafe or in violation of any federal, state or local rules, regulations, standards or orders applicable to equipment or commercial motor vehicles."
Do's and Dont's
- Report the safety problem. You must bring up the problem and ask the company to fix it. If the company refuses to fix it, talk to a steward or union representative.
- Be specific: You are more likely to get protection under the STAA if you are clear, specific and up front about the nature of the truck safety concern. State that the problem is a violation of DOT regulations (if relevant) and why you feel it represents a genuine safety hazard.
- Have a witness. Have a witness present when you tell the company that the problem is a genuine safety hazard and that you will operate the truck when it is corrected.
- Document the problem: Take a picture of the problem with a camera or cell phone if you can. Show the problem to a witness.
- Keep a paper trail. Write notes on exactly what happened while the incident is fresh in your memory.
Attorney Paul Taylor of the Truckers' Justice Center has provided many Teamster drivers with expert legal advice and assistance on truck safety rights and violations. Contact him at paul.taylor [at] truckersjusticecenter.com or call 651-454-5800.
Taylor was one of the authors of the STAA Handbook: How to use the Surface Transportation Assistance Act to Enforce Truck Safety and Protect Your Job.
Click here to purchase the STAA Handbook.
March 15, 2013: The International Union has kept a tight lid on the bargaining goals for the UPS, ABF and UPS Freight agreements.
Keeping members in the dark doesn't win better contracts.
Union leaders have two choices when it comes to communicating with members at contract time.
The Hoffa administration's strategy has been to keep members in the dark. UPSers call it the Information Brownout. But it's not limited to UPS.
Teamsters at ABF and UPS Freight are also being shut out when it comes to meaningful information about the union’s bargaining goals.
It hasn't always been this way. The Teamsters won labor's biggest contract victory in decades in 1997 by running a year-long campaign that mobilized UPS Teamsters around a clear set of contract goals:
- improving Teamster pensions
- stopping a company takeover of our pensions
- winning more full-time jobs
- raising part-time wages, including a $1 wage bump to close the gap between part-time and full-time pay
UPS Teamsters knew what our union was fighting for and that built the unity we needed to win on each of these contract demands.
The Hoffa administration has turned the '97 formula inside out.
Members and even local union officers have been told next to nothing about the union's bargaining goals at UPS, ABF and UPS Freight.
The limited information that Hoffa and Ken Hall release focuses on the company’s concessionary demands. That makes it easier to declare victory when the givebacks come off the table.
Hoffa and Hall don't inform members to build the union's bargaining leverage; they do it to sell contracts after the deal has already been cut.
Fortunately, members can do something about it.
TDU members fought for and won important contract rights for all Teamsters, including the right to an informed vote, majority rule on contracts, and the right to vote on our supplements.
You've got these rights. Use them. Join with other Teamsters who are mobilizing against givebacks and standing up for better contracts.
Membership Rights at Contract Time
Teamster members do have power and democratic rights when it comes to voting on their contracts.
It was not always this way. But Teamster members united through TDU to win key rights at contract time.
TDU won the Right to a Majority Vote on Teamster Contracts
Teamster members have the right to vote on their contracts by majority rule.
This might seem like a no-brainer. But before 1987, it took a two-thirds vote to reject a contract.
That meant that employers could force through a bad contract if it was approved by just 33 percent of the members.
In 1985, the International Union imposed the National Master Freight Agreement after 64 percent of the members voted no! The International Union also forced through a national UPS contract that 52 percent of the members rejected.
TDU launched a national campaign and we went to court. In 1987, we won the Right to Majority Rule on contracts.
TDU won the Right to a Fair and Informed Contract Vote
Teamster members have the right to see the entire wording of all changes to their contract and supplement before a vote—thanks to TDU.
In 1984, the International Union secretly renegotiated the national UPS contract—behind the backs of the members and local officers too!
TDU went to court and overturned the secret deal in the precedent-setting Bauman v. Presser case. The judge ordered the ballots impounded.
And Teamsters won the right for every Teamster to cast a fair and informed vote in all contracts.
TDU won the Right to Vote on all Supplements and Riders
Teamster members have the Right to Vote on their supplements and riders. Members have used this right to defeat contract givebacks.
UPS Teamsters voted to reject 18 supplements and riders this year. As a result, they’ve defeated some of the TeamCare healthcare cuts and are continuing to organize to protect their healthcare and win improvements in their supplements.
Teamsters did not used to have this right. That gave employers a tool to force through unpopular concessions in supplements.
TDU fought back. We wrote an amendment to the Teamster Constitution. We coordinated with local unions in Pennsylvania to submit an amendment to the Teamster Constitution. And we won the Right to Vote on supplements at the 1991 Teamster Convention.
UPS has made record profits even in the recession. UPS's freight and cartage division has done quite well and continues to grow in importance to the overall corporation.
It's an ideal time for UPS Freight Teamsters to make gains in our job protections and benefits.
A proposed tentative agreement may be delivered to Teamster members for a vote soon. We need to be prepared to evaluate the contract on the key issues.
We have a Right to Vote by secret ballot, and a right to study the contract and discuss it at meetings and amongst ourselves. This is our power.
We do not have to accept the first offer: the contract doesn't expire until July 31. UPS wants an early ratification. That's a bargaining chip that we can use. We can always send the first offer back for further negotiation and a clear message of what areas of the contract need to be changed to get a yes vote.
The current contract was our first and has many areas that need to be addressed. Below are a few key aspects that many members have highlighted.
|What We Got in 2008||What We Need in 2013|
|Wages||Comparable wage rates with ABF but well below UPS package car and feeder rates. The part-time dock rates are far below union standards.||Significant pay increase for drivers and dock. Bring everyone up to union scale.|
|Pensions & Benefits||Substandard health insurance and no Teamster pension.||Improvements in health coverage. Ken Hall has stated that Teamsters under the package contract will not pay one cent for coverage. We should get the same in the UPS Freight contract: end the second-class status. Improvements are needed in pension benefits also.|
|Subcontracting||Article 44 has devastated our road boards. We have actually lost ground under the contract.||We need firm language eliminating subcontracting. Both the UPS and National Master Freight contracts have language that could work. Bring all the jobs in-house.|
|Work Rules||Article 41 Existing Practices. A blank slate to be determined within 60 days of ratification. In most areas nothing was ever agreed to.||Get clear and firm language on a procedure and deadline for establishing work rules.|
|Transfer Rights||No Transfer Rights.||Established Transfer Rights. Any UPS Freight Teamster should be able to transfer and bid on an unfilled position at any terminal providing their seniority allows.|
|Layoff and Recall||No layoff recall language.||Firm formula on overall overtime hours that triggers recalls from layoff status.|
March 15, 2013: As Teamster Voice goes to press in mid-March, the International Union has informed local unions that YRC's proposed change of operations is being reviewed for substantive and procedural issues, and no hearing on it is set for March or April.
There are good reasons for a serious review. First, the sheer size of the change, with over 1,200 Teamster jobs being moved, and 230 being lost altogether. Second, the specifics of locations. And third, the way the seniority pool is overly apportioned, which assures the company that fewer slots will fill (meaning less moving pay and more workers out the door).
We encourage all YRC Teamsters to take a look and voice your opinions. The full change is posted here, and updates will be posted as available.
"We need tougher 9.5 penalties in the national contract that requires management to adjust our loads.
"Pay penalty is great. But it doesn't stop the 11-hour days or get me home at night to see my family.
"UPS preaches safety and keeping your body healthy, but they keep us out until 9 or 10 o'clock at night so we're eating dinner late and not getting enough sleep. It's a total contradiction.
"We're a big, profitable company and our customers are happy. We need to hire more people and get drivers home at a decent hour so we can have a more balanced life."
— Rich Pawlikowski, Package Driver, Local 804, New York
More Drivers Means Less Harassment
"We need clear enforceable language that makes UPS create more driving jobs in centers where that is needed to cover the work.
"Management has been cutting and combining loads, putting more work on the drivers and keeping us out until all hours of the night. This is no accident. The company is doing this to maximize profits and they don't care about us.
"Vague language that management has to 'maintain a sufficient workforce' isn't going to cut it. That gives UPS way too much wiggle room."
— Steve Spann, Package Driver, Local 413, Columbus, Ohio
"The number-one way drivers are harassed is from Telematics and GPS. It's only going to get worse with ORION which is like Telematics on steroids.
"In the last contract, Ken Hall gave UPS the loophole to use technology to discipline us in cases of 'dishonesty.' UPS has twisted and exploited that language. It's got to go.
"The National Negotiating Committee has proposed the right language for Article 6: that UPS can't discipline drivers based solely on information from technology. Ken Hall needs to stick to his guns this time, not cave in, or drivers are going to pay the price."
— Matt Maini, Package Driver, Local 251, Providence, R.I.
SurePost—More Jobs or Just More Harassment?
"The International is demanding that more SurePost packages come on the package car for final delivery. That's the right thing.
"But are we going to get more jobs out of this or just more packages? I am already working 10, 11 and even 12-hour days. Drivers who file 9.5s are harassed, intimidated and unfairly scrutinized and disciplined through telematics.
"An agreement on SurePost that doesn't make UPS create more driving jobs is just going to mean more boxes, higher stop counts, longer hours and more harassment."
— Martin Labut, Package Driver, Local 243, Detroit
Part-Time Pay Increases
"In 1982 starting rate for part-timers was $8. This has gone up 50 cents in the last 30 years, and that's absolutely ridiculous! If wages had been adjusted for inflation we'd be making over $19/hr today. I'm not saying we need that much now, but we're looking for big increases.
"Raising the wage is going to help us keep good employees. Right now there is no incentive to work without decent pay and having to wait so long for benefits.
"We also need to know we're taking care of the UPSers who are here already. The last time starting pay was raised existing part-timers also got a bump in their pay. We need that again."
— Paul Trujillo, Preload, Local 651, Lexington, Ky.
March 15, 2013: UPS is making record profits in a tough economy by using technology, harassment and excessive overtime to pile more work on drivers.
Hoffa and Ken Hall kicked off bargaining by saying there would be no agreement unless UPS addresses this production harassment. But they have kept a strict information Brownout on what protections we're actually fighting for.
UPS Teamsters need to carefully review any proposed new contract and judge for themselves if it includes the protections we need to fight harassment and excessive overtime.
Strengthen 9.5 Rights
The 9.5 language only works if drivers are free to go on the list without retaliation and management has to address violations by adjusting drivers' loads. Penalty pay is not enough.
The number one way to stop exploding stop counts and 11-hour days is to make UPS hire enough drivers to cover the work.
So far, Hall has only talked about vague contract language that would allow drivers to file a grievance if UPS does not "maintain a sufficient workforce."
This is modeled on the language that is supposed to stop supervisors working and we all know how toothless that is.
UPS promised two years ago to address over-dispatch by hiring more drivers. It's time to get that agreement in writing.
The contract needs clear triggers that make UPS create package jobs in centers with repeated 9.5 violations.
Penalties for Harassment & Retaliation
Hoffa and Hall have promised new language that protects members from threats or retaliation for going on the 9.5 list, reporting an injury, and going on comp.
To work, these protections need to be backed up with penalties that make management pay a price for violations. Otherwise, the language will be as unenforceable as the "respect and dignity" clause.
Protect Members from Technology
In the last contract, Hoffa and Hall gave UPS the right to terminate members using only information for technology in cases of "dishonesty." UPS has abused the loophole. It's time to close it.
Article 6, Section 6 should ban all discipline that is based solely on information from technology: GPS, Telematics, ORION, IVIS or any successor system.
Don't Be Fooled Again
This year's contract negotiations is not the first time Ken Hall has talked tough on production harassment.
During the last International Union election, Hall organized a national sticker day against Unfair Production Standards.
Afterwards, Hall held a conference call for UPS shop stewards and announced that UPS management had agreed to curb production harassment, stop assigning supervisors to ride with drivers who file 9.5 grievances, and to review their dispatch records and hire more drivers to match the number of drivers employed when volume was previously at this level.
"We told UPS we are not going to tolerate harassment of our members. You can't use the economy as an excuse," Hall told stewards.
UPS management's assurances—and Hall's tough talk—turned out to be empty promises.
The contract is our chance to get enforceable harassment protections in writing. Don't be fooled again.
March 15, 2013: Does a ten-year freeze in pension benefits sound too long to you? That is what half of all UPS full-time Teamsters could face, unless there are improvements put in Article 34 of the UPS National Contract.
The IBT-UPS Pension Plan covers Teamsters in 24 states (the southern region, the Carolinas, and most of the central region), but this plan has the lowest benefits of all Teamster pension plans!
Fortunately, that situation can be corrected now, in this contract. The benefit levels ($3,000 for 30-and-out; $2,000 25-and-out) are specified right in Article 34, Section 1, and have been the same since 2007 when the contract was ratified.
Unless there is a significant boost in benefits, they could be frozen until 2018, with no improvements for inflation. With inflation of three percent a year that $3,000 would be worth only $1,971 in 2018.
So a $1,000 increase in benefits is needed just to keep benefits from going backward.
The International union has already conceded that retirees under the company plan will have to pay more for health insurance in the future.
UPS runs this pension plan right out of the Atlanta headquarters. It costs them far less money than other plans for full-timers, because of the lower benefits and its status as a single-employer plan.
Don't settle short and regret it later. Demand a pension increase. No excuses.
March 15, 2013: Some 50,000 UPS Teamsters stand to draw a pension from the Central States Fund, even though UPS was allowed to pull out of that fund in 2008 and set up their own IBT-UPS Pension Plan, run by the company.
The way it works is that UPS pays the pension until the retiree reaches 65. Then Central States pays its share of the pension (which would be most of it), and UPS makes up the difference with a second pension check, to provide the promised pension benefit.
Will they lose if Central States cuts pensions? The answer is found in Article 34, Section l, paragraph (l)(6) of the national contract: "If the benefit paid from the Central States Plan is reduced as permitted or required by law, the amount of such reduction shall not be included in the offset."
The Hoffa administration says that single sentence protects UPS Teamsters. But experience with contract enforcement at UPS is that ambiguous language often hurts members.
It should be easy to fix this issue in contract bargaining with clear, unambiguous protection for retirees from Central States pension cuts.
March 15, 2013: Instead of parroting the employers who want to cut our pensions, our Teamsters Union should be proposing positive legislation to protect workers' hard-earned benefits. How about these ideas:
- Build a coalition of unions, retiree groups, AARP to push for positive legislation to protect and shore up pensions.
- Propose enhanced protection from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). It is presently funded by tiny contributions from various pension plans: increase them to provide real insurance for benefits.
- End the discrimination in benefit protection against multiemployer (union) plans by the PBGC: raise the covered benefit level, which is now only about $1,100 per month for a 30-year Teamster.
- Put forward a version of the bill proposed by Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in 2010, to protect the pensions of workers whose companies have gone bankrupt or moved production offshore. This protection would be a godsend to our Teamster pension funds and retirees.
Teamster members, retirees and local officers (who are covered by the same pension plans) can and will join in such an effort. Give Teamster political money only to politicians who support our right to our earned pensions. It's up to the International union to take the lead.