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Teamsters union overwhelmingly OKs strike vote against ArcBest LTL unit

The Teamsters union has come out guns blazing in the first of four separate negotiations with freight companies in the United States and Canada over the next year.

In what is likely merely a negotiating ploy, the Teamsters negotiating committee said a strike authorization had been approved by members covered under ABF Freight’s National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA).

John Murphy, Teamsters national freight director and co-chair of the organization’s negotiating arm, said in a letter to local unions that the secret ballot produced “a very good turnout.” Murphy said 97.73% of votes cast voted to begin preparations for a strike.

The Teamsters have not had a national strike since the late union president Ron Carey engineered a 15-day strike against UPS in 1997. In 1994, Carey also pulled off a three-week strike against 15 unionized LTL carriers for three weeks.

The Teamsters are acting as if they enjoy flexing their negotiating muscle as the union embarks on talks with at least four major North American freight carriers.

“The members’ show of support comes at a critical time as we head into the final phase of bargaining,” the letter read.

A separate Teamsters negotiating committee is also working on collective bargaining agreements with UPS, its largest employer. That contract, covering about 330,000 part- and full-time UPS Teamsters, expires July 31.

In addition, the union is negotiating with Canada-based TForce Freight (the former UPS Freight and Overnite Transportation Co.), which also expires on July 31.

And as if that wasn’t enough time at the negotiating table, the Teamsters have moved up labor talks with Yellow Corp. by a year. That contract expires next March 31. But both sides have been unable to reach terms on the carrier’s proposed changes to operations to the company’s “One Yellow” operation and have agreed to settle that dispute within the overall collective bargaining contract. Yellow controls about 8% of the LTL market.

As far as the Teamsters talks with ArcBest, they center on that company’s unionized long-haul operation at ABF Freight System, the nation’s seventh-largest LTL carrier with $2.95 billion in revenue last year.

On May 12, the Teamsters said that talks with ABF, had resumed but “the parties currently remain far apart on economics.” The hangups include the use of outside non-union transportation, driverless trucks and inward-facing dash cameras—all historically non-negotiable items for the Teamsters.

The Teamsters notice said negotiations on the “tough issues,” like the use of outside transportation, autonomous vehicles and inward-facing cameras, all of which the union has historically opposed, were beginning.

“While it is the committee’s desire to avoid a strike and reach a new negotiated collective bargaining agreement, we need to be prepared for all eventualities,” Murphy told members in an April 28 letter. ArcBest declined comment.

ArcBest has more than 8,600 union employees, making it the third-largest Teamsters employer after UPS and Yellow. Those ABF workers are entitled to roughly a 2% annual increase in wages. ABF workers also enjoy a profit-sharing deal that pays up to 3% more a year. That side deal has kicked in each of the last two years because of the favorable pricing environment in the LTL industry and other factors.

The deal also has a profit-sharing component paying up to 3% based on the operating performance in ArcBest’s asset-based unit, which includes LTL operations. The maximum payout has been achieved by the unit in each of the past two years.

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