IBT Needs Plan for Countering Employer Attacks on Benefits

December 5, 2005: Employers across North America are attacking the pension and medical benefits of working Americans. Union and non-union workers are being hit with larger co-pays, cuts in benefits, or worse.

Our union needs a clear plan of action for protecting and improving benefits for all Teamsters. The employers have a plan. Our union leadership doesn’t. That’s why we are being pushed backward now.

Local Unions — and many benefit plans are local, or even company plans — are left to struggle on their own to combat cuts and maintain benefits.

We need to practice solidarity in action: a national plan of action for various industries and contracts with resources and leadership from the International Union behind it.

National Task Force
To start with, the IBT needs to start playing a leadership role in education and bargaining skills around benefit issues. A national benefit protection committee should be formed, with local officers, stewards and members. Its mission should be to help guide the research, organizing and education effort that is needed to counter the employer attack on benefits.

At the same time the IBT needs to create a task force that is staffed with benefit fund professionals and media experts. The task force would work closely with the national committee to mount campaigns.
We also need to aggressively work for a national health care plan in this country, so that non-union employers like Wal-Mart have to start paying their fair share.

The IBT under Hoffa has absolutely no ongoing mechanism for developing and implementing a united plan among Teamster benefit funds. There is an annual Teamster educational event for trustees, which is fine, but far from adequate.

When the employers or the fund managers come forward with a proposal for cutting benefits, our union trustees’ first response must never be, “OK, how much?” But too often, that is what we see happening.

Audit of all Major Teamster Funds

Hoffa claimed nearly two years ago that the IBT would do an independent actuarial study of the Central States Fund. That was a good start, but nothing was ever heard of it again.

The members are kept in the dark and treated as the enemy, instead of a positive force to fight back. The IBT also should put in place a mechanism for independent studies of pension and welfare funds, with union-selected experts, so that any potential problems are uncovered well in advance of negative consequences.

The Western Conference Fund cut the multiplier 2.5 years ago, even though the Fund was financially strong. Now it is approaching 100 percent funding and still there is no action to restore our members’ benefits.

The New England Fund cut benefits earlier this year and then backed off on part of the cuts, under pressure from members and local officers.
In both cases the International Union leadership has been silent, going along with the employer-demanded cuts. Without any independent expert studies, our members are left in the dark, isolated and angry.

Contract Campaign Organizing

A business-as-usual approach to the 2008 UPS and freight contracts won’t cut it. Massive contract campaigns will have to be put in place early, well before the 2008 bargaining.

UPS has a plan: they want out of union pension funds, and they are aggressively marketing this to our Teamster members. This must be countered with a Teamster plan to preserve and rebuild all of our pension funds. Freight and carhaul Teamsters will also need contract campaigns that take into account the challenges of winning good contracts while defending and improving benefits.

It seems clear the Hoffa administration is not going to move in this kind of pro-active way. They react to employers’ moves, mainly by going along. And they hope if they go along nicely with UPS management, then maybe management will be nice in return, and won’t move to bust apart our pension funds.

It’s going to take a new, forward-looking Teamster leadership to defend our good benefits and improve those that fall short. That’s what the Tom Leedham Strong Contracts, Good Pensions Slate is about.
Sandy Pope
Local 805 President
New York

Click here: Apples and Oranges, or Just Rotten Apples?: Study Counters Central States' Claims
Click here: Central States Fund Trustees Keep Pension and Health Care Cuts In Place
Click here: Battle Against Cut-Back Provision Will Move Into 2006
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