January 30,2005: As an employee of Allied Systems in Windsor, Ont., and a member of Teamsters Local 938, I would like to address the issue of the fast card program [for crossing the U.S./Canada border]. I, like many others, am in the process of obtaining a fast card to hold my job. At this point I do not have my fast card and therefore I am unable to work until I obtain one.
I have applied for this card twice now, but due to the fact that the Canadian government is 12 weeks behind in issuing these cards I am unemployed by Allied until I receive the card. There are some employees that will never be able to obtain a fast card, therefore they will never be able to cross the border hauling cars. I have contacted the Teamsters and to no avail. They do not seem to show any interest in the issue that their fellow brother is out of work and some could possibly lose everything without the backing of the Teamsters.
I myself will eventually receive my card, but what I question is what about the guy who cannot obtain his card? When we were hired on at Allied the only stipulation for employment was to be bondable. How can the union just sit back and allow the company and big three [auto makers] to dictate our future employment. What am I paying union dues for? I thought it was to protect us from unfair labor practice. Far too many Teamsters are looking outside of the union for representation, some by hiring private lawyers.
Local 938, Allied
“Herman Benson launched the union democracy movement almost single-handedly, nearly 50 years ago,” says Ken Paff, TDU national organizer. Now Benson has written a book about the history of the union reform movement he took part in: Rebels, Reformers and Racketeers: How Insurgents Transformed the Labor Movement.
Benson writes the account of union reformers in the United Mine Workers, the Laborers, the Longshore Workers, the Teamsters, and other unions—all “independent-minded unionists who are loyal to unions because they cherish the values of decency, democracy and dignity, and who resent injustice.”
Benson has been a toolmaker and machinist, and a member of the UAW, the Rubber Workers, the United Electrical Workers, and the International Union of Electrical Workers. He is a cofounder of the Association for Union Democracy, and Rebels, Reformers and Racketeers is also the story of AUD.
One of the first reformers with whom Benson worked closely was Frank Schonfeld. In the early 1960s Schonfeld took on corrupt officials in New York Painters District Council 9. At that time almost no one inside or outside the union was willing to say out loud that its officers were corrupt.
Using New Rights
When those officials tried to silence Schonfeld with internal union charges, Benson found attorneys who successfully defended the reformer using the newly enacted Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. To forestall an election, the Painters International imposed a trusteeship. But the reformers won a court order lifting the trusteeship and mandating independently supervised elections. Schonfeld proceeded to win two terms as Painters DC 9 secretary-treasurer, and won wage and benefit gains unheard of under the old regime. (Schonfeld also hired Benson as part-time newsletter editor for the District Council.)
Benson writes that it was us, the Teamsters, who took reform to a higher level in 1991:
“It was the proliferation of these insurgent movements that validated dissent in unions. It was the 1991 Teamster reform victory that tipped the balance in the AFL-CIO. Forty years of broad rank and file reform activity provided both the moral legitimacy and the power that made possible Sweeney’s insurgent quest for the AFL-CIO presidency in 1995.”
Benson paints a sweeping picture of changes in the labor movement, but some of his most interesting material is from the trenches in unions that didn’t see major national reform. In many of those struggles, AUD has acted as reformers’ attorneys. So be prepared to read plenty of everyday-English descriptions of legal battles won and lost.
Herman Benson’s Rebels, Reformers and Racketeers is available from the Association for Union Democracy. Paperback, 200 pages, $18. Phone 718-564-1114 or visit www.uniondemocracy.org.
Georgia has a long tradition in the history of Teamster reform. Teamsters here have also been deeply involved in the effort to stop pension and health benefit cuts.
While continuing to move ahead with positive changes, members in both locals may now also face what is becoming a worn-out routine under the Hoffa administration: re-run elections. The losing slates in both locals have filed protests.
Local 528 members will also be demanding that the International end its trusteeship of the local, imposed over 20 months ago, and install their duly elected officers as quickly as possible.
January 28, 2005: New York Local 805 members elected the Sandy Pope Leadership Action Team in balloting on Dec. 7. Pope, a long-time leader in the Teamster reform movement and a member of the TDU International Steering Committee, defeated the incumbent president by a wide margin. All seven members of her slate were elected.
Cuts to the Local 805 pension were a major issue in the campaign. Pope opposed them and said the union should launch a campaign to preserve benefits. Incumbent President Gerry Whelan said that stock market losses in 2001 and 2002 made pension cuts inevitable even though the Local 805 pension fund is 90% funded—making it much stronger than other funds that have cut benefits.
Members backed Pope by a 58% to 42% margin with 55% of the local’s 1,200 members voting. But Whelan was not about to let the voice of the members get in the way of his plan to cut members’ pension.
In an 11th-hour move before leaving office, Whelan struck a deal with employers to cut the pension accrual rate to zero—meaning that members will earn no pension credit beginning in 2005. At the same fund meeting, employer trustees and an alternate designated by Whelan’s defeated executive board voted to hire Whelan as the fund manager.
As we go to press, the new Local 805 executive board is making plans for a campaign to defeat the pension cuts and job grab pushed through by Whelan and the employers—including possible litigation.
“Gerry took care of himself and hung the members out to dry,” said Ralph Vomaro, the newly elected secretary-treasurer on the Leadership Action Slate. “We’re not going to let him or the employers undermine our benefits.”
Pope and the Leadership Action Team have a track record of defeating employer demands for benefit cuts. In the last round of negotiations, multiple Local 805 employers demanded that members start paying for a portion of their medical benefits.
Instead, Pope, with the backing of strong rank and file negotiating committees, bargained record contribution increases that preserved members’ medical benefits without cuts or cost-sharing on the monthly premium.
“Local 805 members elected the Leadership Action Team to strengthen union representation and fight to protect our benefits—and that’s what we’re going to do,” Pope said.
January 28, 2005: On December 9 Judge James B Moran directed the trustees of the Teamster Central States Pension Fund to turn more documents over to participants in the fund. The decision expands an October 21 victory won by Teamster members in Locals 638, 391 and 20.
Central States has now been ordered to reveal quarterly reports, along with financial and actuarial supplementary attachments, from August of 2000 up till the present, and into the future. The information will help members see just what should have been done, and what can be done now, and who is responsible for the drastic cuts the trustees imposed on members and retirees.
“It’s a great victory. Hopefully when we get these documents we can get an expert evaluation of the situation,” commented Tommy Burke, a UPS driver in Local 391 who is one of the intervenors in court. “I want to thank our attorney, Paul Levy, for his good work.”
The trustees are apparently considering whether to appeal, to try to continue to hide from the Teamster membership.
Teamster Website False
The Teamster website, in a “Central States Update” contains false information on the situation. First, it states the court only ordered that two reports be revealed. The truth is that the court ordered that many reports be turned over, along with additional separate financial attachments. Central States is stalling on many of them. Second, the International claims that Public Citizen Litigation Group took the action; in truth, Public Citizen represents Teamster members who are long time fund participants. Third, the International says the reports contain “little new information.” This statement is interesting, and was immediately reported to Judge Moran by the members’ attorney, because in court the International’s trustees claim the exact opposite: that vital secret information will be revealed. The same false statements are posted on the Central States site.
TDU, the Central States Pension Improvement Committee and concerned members and local officers will continue the fight for pension justice. This is one more victory in a long march toward that goal.
January 5, 2005: Some Teamster contracts address the issue of excessive overtime. Here are two examples.
Forced overtime is a huge problem in grocery warehousing. Oregon Local 206 has fought for strong contract language limiting overtime in their grocery contracts. Local 206 Secretary-Treasurer Tom Leedham knows about forced overtime from back when he was a rank-and-file member working at United Grocers (now Unified Western Grocers) in the 1970s. “They would work us from 5 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.,” says Leedham.
“In 1977 we struck to get overtime language in our area grocery agreement and won. The language limited forced overtime to two hours a shift and ten hours total a week. To this day, in every contract negotiation, we’ve had to fight to keep this.”
The National Master UPS contract also contains language regarding overtime, though somewhat weaker than what is found in the Local 206 grocery contracts. UPS Teamsters can use this language to pressure management to limit forced overtime.
Some years ago, when UPS drivers at the Bluegrass center in Louisville were being given excessive pieces to deliver, drivers got together to fight the problem using the “9.5 hours” language in the master UPS agreement. Article 37, Section 1 gives the right to grieve if drivers have to work more than 9.5 hours a day for any three days in a workweek. “About 20 of us started consistently filing 9.5 grievances for every period in which there was a violation,” says Local 89 member David Thornsberry, who was the union steward. “We filed almost 200 grievances total. On each of them, we asked that as a remedy UPS hire more drivers. They were inundated with 9.5 grievances, which were taking up about 90% of grievance hearings. As a consequence, they hired about 20 additional drivers at our center over a period of about a year.”
January 28, 2005: There has been a great deal of discussion lately about pension relief from many sources. The IBT releases regular statements regarding the need for relief, and in the July/August issue of Teamster Magazine the IBT called for Teamsters to “join [John] Kerry in his fight for legislation that provides meaningful relief for multi-employer pension plans.”
Our committee couldn’t agree more that our pension funds need help but isn’t reform more important than relief?
Interestingly, Timothy P. Lynch, president and CEO of the Motor Freight Carriers Association (MFCA), agrees with the IBT that relief is needed but he also claims reform is necessary. The Central Pennsylvania Teamsters Reform Committee agrees! However, his idea of reform is skewed almost entirely on behalf of the companies he represents, naturally!
We Might Be Able to Agree
In testimony before Congress Mr. Lynch made a number of points we might be able to agree on. For example:
“The employers...are concerned about the current framework for multi-employer plans and strongly believe that if not properly addressed, the problems will only get worse, thus jeopardizing the ability of contributing employers to finance the pension plans and ultimately putting at risk the pension benefits of their employees and retirees.”
Note that the employees and retirees come last in regards to his concerns.
The main point of his testimony was that the companies have no control over how the funds are maintained. He reiterated this point near the end of his statement:
“Employers cannot be expected to bear ultimate responsibility for the financial viability of plans, but at the same time be precluded from any ability to hold the plan and its trustees accountable.”
Mr. Lynch’s statement conveniently forgets this position is set by ERISA, the law covering pension benefits and that we working Teamsters pay for our retirement and medical benefits with our labor, skill, and dedicated service. Our benefits are negotiated and earned; they are not a gratuity or a gift.
Lynch is quick to point out the costs of our benefits and that they are part of the National Master Freight Agreement but one gets the impression from reading his testimony that their contributions are something they do willingly instead of something they are contractually obligated to do. Lynch complains, “because of the legal restrictions placed upon trustees in furtherance of their fiduciary responsibilities, there is very limited control by our companies over the actions and decisions of trustees.”
Turn Over Control?
So are we to assume the solution is to turn over all control to the companies instead of trustees who are legally obligated to act in the best interests of the participants?
You really need to read the entire testimony to see Mr. Lynch’s motives. I wonder if the only reasons Mr. Lynch testified were to:
- Eliminate the excise tax (avoid company liability),
- Gain control of the pension funds (avoid additional liability),
- Reduce the total number of Teamster pension funds from around 22 to one or two: “If two pension plans can cover 85% of the country, there is no reason why we need 20 to cover the remaining 15%,”
- And last but certainly not least—get rid of the pesky fiduciary responsibility.
Committee Has Suggestions, Too
Our committee also has some suggestions to reform pensions but I wonder if we will ever get the opportunity to share them with Congress:
1. Every citizen/participant has the right to expect the utmost loyalty and diligence from individuals and companies who safeguard and administer the benefits plans that we Americans depend upon for our retirement security and health (more fiduciary responsibility).
2. When pension laws are violated intentionally or recklessly, then those who are responsible for the violation can be held liable for punitive damages in order to punish and prevent such violations, just as with other important rights under federal law (consequences for breaching fiduciary responsibility).
3. Enact extremely harsh penalties for pension improprieties, with effective enforcement tools built into ERISA (validity to existing laws).
4. Make available to all participants all information concerning their pension fund, barring access to nothing. (tools the participants can use to educate themselves).
5. A complete, annual, in-depth audit by an independent firm must be made of each pension fund. All aspects of every fund must be examined and made available to participants (honesty).
6. All pension fund changes must have complete plan changes and complete documents written and filed with the IRS and the Department of Labor before implementation. All plan participants must be notified of the proposed changes 60 days prior to any plan change (accountability).
7. Any money paid to a fund on behalf of, or by, a participant must become an accrued benefit for that participant upon the fund’s acceptance of that money.
8. A company’s withdrawal liability must be paid before a company can be sold or merged.
Many more items could be added to this list. Isn’t it time our union put its political clout behind winning these kinds of protections?
Overhaul PBGC Rates
Finally, any meaningful reform should include overhauling the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC’s) insurance rates for multi-employer pension plans. Single-employer funds pay $19 per worker per year for coverage but multi-employer funds pay only $2.60 per worker. Is $16.40 per year the sole reason my potential PBGC insurance reimbursement (if the plan fails) is only one-third that of my single employer brothers?
The double standard goes further. If a single employer plan fails (and almost all failures are single-employer plans) the maximum benefit from the PBGC is $3,580. If a multi-employer plan fails the maximum is only $1,072 per month.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Mr. Lynch squeaked pretty loudly testifying before Congress, and the employers will likely step up their campaign in the future. The Bush Department of Labor has so far ignored the needs of pension plan participants.
How much noise do we have to make before we too can be heard?