Teamster Leadership Needed in Tough Economy

June 20, 2008: Soaring gas prices. A sinking economy. Our union can shield us in tough times—but only if our leaders plan ahead.

High prices are killing working Teamsters at the pump and in the grocery store. In times like these, a union benefit like a cost of living increase (COLA) makes a real difference.

But incredibly, the International Union failed to bargain a COLA raise for 2008 in both the UPS and freight contracts.

The COLA raise that wasn’t will cost freight and UPS Teamsters nearly $2,000 a piece over the life of the new contracts (See story).

Soaring gas prices top the headlines every day. But somehow our negotiators didn’t get the news. Or did they? Hoffa got a $12,500 COLA raise this year.

UPS and the freight carriers protect themselves with a fuel surcharge. But working Teamsters get no inflation protection in 2008.

This missed opportunity is an example of the difference our union can make in our lives—and the price we pay when our top officers fail to plan ahead.

Teamster Pension Crisis

The pension crisis is another example where our union leadership was caught on its heels at the expense of working Teamsters.

No one could have predicted 9/11 or the big hit our pension funds would take because of the plummeting stock market.

But we can hold our International Union leaders accountable for their failure to respond to that crisis with a proactive plan to protect our benefits.

Experts warned the Hoffa administration that Teamster pension funds would be in trouble if our union failed to bargain enough contributions into the 2002 and 2003 master contracts.

Those warnings were hidden from the members and hundreds of thousands of Teamsters have been been hit with pension cuts.

The corporations were not caught on their heels. UPS and other Teamster employers launched a legislative assault on defined benefit pension plans. With no pro-active plan of their own, the Hoffa administration got behind the employer-backed Pension Protection Act.

By the time our union jumped off the bandwagon at the last minute, it was too late. The Pension Protection Act passed and the result has been a new round of pension freezes and cuts (See story).

Protecting Jobs in a Struggling Economy

The economy is sputtering and nowhere more than in the U.S. car industry, where the crisis is putting Teamster carhaul jobs at risk.

Once again, our International developed no clear union response to a protracted crisis.

Last year, the Hoffa administration threw its support behind a takeover bid of the largest Teamster carhaul company by billionaire Ron Burkle—a move that produced a 17.5 percent wage cut for Allied Teamsters.

Our union finally made a stand this month. When another carhaul company, PTS, forced through wage concessions in bankruptcy court, our union called a strike and forced PTS out of business.

The strike could be a success if if the union successfully presses the shippers to transfer the work to union carriers, and if the union protects the rights of all carhaulers in the transfer process.

As we go to press, the outcome is in doubt. Nonunion carriers have picked up some Teamster traffic, even in Detroit, the heart of the industry and Hoffa’s hometown.

Times are tough. So are Teamsters. We need our union to help us weather the storm by planning ahead, not failing to plan.

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