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ABF Teamsters set for meeting with company leadership this week

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
December 17, 2012

Earlier this month, union locals representing 7,500 drivers, dockworkers, mechanics, and clerical staffers at ABF Freight System asked the seventh-largest LTL carrier for a two-year contract with healthy wage and benefit increases.

As previously reported, Teamsters locals are asking ABF for $1-per hour wage increases and additional contributions to their pension, health and benefit package.
ABF’s current contract with the Teamsters expires next March 31. The company has already asked that it negotiate separately from chief union rival YRC Worldwide, which has been revived financially under new President and CEO James Welch.

And if the company were to agree with a two-year contract, that would mean the next contract would expire in 2015—when YRC’s contract covering some 20,000 Teamsters also expires. Neither the Teamsters nor ABF officials are commenting publicly on the details of the contract proposals.

But on Friday the Teamsters National Freight Industry Negotiating Committee (TNFINC) said in a statement it is prepared to exchange contract proposals with ABF on December 18 and bargain a solid contract for the 7,500 ABF Teamsters.

The Teamsters proposals were unanimously approved on November 29 by local AF unions, TNFINC said.

In the statement, TFNINC said that ABF is expected to bargain aggressively and will seek to save money on labor costs, and added that the union is “prepared to counter the company’s arguments and will stress the bigger picture.

What’s more, it cited how industry analysts and ABF management have focused entirely on Teamster labor costs but not management labor costs, explaining how ABF generates the highest revenue per shipment in the less-than-truckload (LTL) sector.

“Our members are working long hours handling conventional and unconventional
LTL freight to make this company as successful as possible,” said Gordon Sweeton, co-chairman of the National ABF Negotiating Committee for TNFINC. “We are looking for meaningful bargaining proposals and discussions that address the realities of this industry while protecting good, full-time jobs. We do not believe, however, that it’s a zero-sum game where cost control is the only issue at hand.”

Since the economy has been in or coming out of a recession going back to 2008, TFNINC said that it has been active in assisting ABF through this period, including advancing the implementation of its coast-to-coast regional service to directly compete with growing non-union carriers. And in 2010 ABF union leaders recommended a wage reduction/profit sharing plan, but it was ultimately rejected by ABF employees.

ABF, the largest unit of parent Arkansas Best Corp., has suffered financially during the Great Recession and its aftermath. Its stock has lost more than 75 percent of its value and was trading around $8 per share recently.
 
Arkansas Best posted earnings of $6.5 million in the third quarter, compared with net income of $12.3 million. Company officials have publicly cited its high cost structure when compared to chief non-union competitors such as Con-way and Old Dominion Freight Line.
 
In addition, ABF currently is suing the Teamsters over what it views as an unfair cost advantage that YRC currently has. YRC Teamsters earn about 15 percent less than ABF Teamsters, even though both companies are signatories to the National Master Freight Agreement.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union, the dissident wing of the 1.4 million member union, said in an online note to its members that it doubted whether the company would accept both the length and the wage increase as proposed.

About the Author

John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

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Article Topics

News · LTL · ABF Freight · Teamsters · All topics

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