Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.
Schneider National officials deny they fired 123 drivers and closed two units because they were longtime holdovers from the truckload giant''s Teamsters-covered days, saying the drivers were dismissed because they could not get an agreement on a pension dispute that has cost the company millions of dollars.
The Teamsters union is claiming victory after the National Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint against Schneider Transport Classic and Schneider Tank Line, two small unionized units the company closed this summer. The NLRB ordered a hearing on the complaint Dec. 1.
The Teamsters are angry because of Schneider''s firings of drivers who were part of a group of unionized workers at the mostly nonunion carrier, one of the largest truckload carriers in the country. The units make up a small percentage of Schneider''s overall work force of more than 18,000.
Schneider claims the workers were fired after the union prevented a vote on a contract. Schneider closed the two units that had unionized drivers on June 28.
"This is a major case," said Fred Gegare, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 75 in Green Bay, Wis., which represents the workers. "The company is trying to rob the drivers of their pensions and transferring their work to its nonunion division. Most of the drivers are in their late 50s or older with an average seniority of 25 years."
Donald J. Jauquet, Schneider''s director of employee relations, said in a letter to Gegare that the company has been "very above board" about its objectives in negotiations with the union.
"We told you time and time again that we don''t want to close the Classic Division of Schneider Transport or Schneider Tank Lines but would be compelled to do so absent a ratified agreement confirming our exit from the Central States Pension Plan," Jauquet wrote.
And Jauquet said the Teamsters had inflamed the rhetoric in the matter: "Contrary to how you apparently want to characterize the matter, we are not being motivated by any anti-union animus. We are motivated by a readily understandable concern about the financial future of the Central States Pension Plan and what that means with respect to withdrawal liability."
The Teamsters claim Schneider fired the drivers to avoid making $5 million in pension payments to the Central States Pension Fund. Schneider offered the drivers a new contract that would have replaced the Central States Pension, but the union said that was unacceptable.
Tom Nightingdale, vice president of corporate marketing with Schneider National, disputed the Teamsters version. "This thing is a travesty," Nightingdale said. "If the Teamsters had allowed this to go to a vote, these 123 workers would still have their jobs. The Teamsters denied their membership a right to have a say in this."
Schneider said it paid $7 million to cover unfounded, vested benefit liability seven years ago. Schneider accuses the Teamsters of foot-dragging. Schneider was removed from the Central States Fund in 1996 because of the union''s decision that the demographics of Schneider''s drivers - more drivers retiring than contributing - were not a good fit in the pension.
The major issue is the health of the Teamsters'' largest pension plan. Central States has an unfounded, vested benefit liability estimated as high as $10 billion, and growing.
"We knew it wasn''t getting any better," Nightingdale said. "We came up with an alternative plan. But the drivers were denied an opportunity to vote on this."
Schneider maintains the Teamsters persistently refused to address the issues at hand, mostly concerning pensions.
"The reality of the situation is this is a sad situation that none of us at Schneider wanted to happen," Nightingdale said. "We have nothing but the best interests of the drivers in mind. We had all hoped that these drivers would be allowed to retire while employed at Schneider Transport Classic and Schneider Tank Lines. Their hand has been forced by the Teamsters leadership."
Although Schneider has not grown the Teamsters ranks, "We have never downsized," Nightingdale said. "We have allowed those Teamsters union drivers to continue and grow old with us and retire when they come of age."
Schneider National was a unionized carrier when it was formed in 1937. As the company boomed following the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 that deregulated trucking, Schneider opted to build a nonunion work force as it has grown to exceed $2.5 billion in revenue.
The Teamsters claim Schneider management did not bargain in good faith, did not comply with the contract, had a supervisor improperly communicate with a union driver, and the company failed to provide written answers to questions dealing with the issues.
After firing these drivers, the Teamsters claim, the company transferred the drivers'' work to its 18,000-strong nonunion division, Schneider National. "This case could help our overall position in dealing with Schneider in the future," Gegare said.
Jacquet says in his letter to Gegare: "We have not walked away from the drivers and their families. We are not playing games. We are not posturing."