Teamsters Union Approves Wage Cuts for Truckers

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 9, 2009

Every weekday, Tom Sorrell rattles around Northern Virginia in a noisy tractor-trailer, struggling through tight turns and traffic, picking up and dropping off cartons and pallets of just about anything until there's no more to be done. For this, the 16-year veteran driver makes $22.71 an hour.

Yesterday, his pay dropped 10 percent.

In what some say is a forerunner of the concessions U.S. workers will be asked to make during the recession, the 40,000 members of Sorrell's union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, voted to approve a wage cut to keep afloat their employer, YRC Worldwide, a Fortune 500 trucking company.

Truckers around the country viewed the vote as a choice between a pay cut or no job at all.

"It's going to be a hardship," said Sorrell, 46, of Manassas, adding that he had already cut down on his groceries and driving to save money. "The shame of it is the employees didn't get the company in this situation. If we're all in the same boat and we're sinking, why didn't management take the same cut we are?"

The chief executive of Kansas-based YRC Worldwide, William D. Zollars, made $5.7 million in 2007, according to the company's regulatory filings.

He agreed to a 10 percent pay cut for the next six months and a 5 percent pay cut for the following six months. He also will not get bonuses. Although the truckers' pay cut remains in effect longer -- through 2013 -- Zollars noted that his pension has been cut by 30 percent.

"The pain has to be shared equally," he said. "The [company's] prospects for success are very high now that we've gotten this done."

As the downturn wears on, more and more workers, unionized or not, will probably face requests to trim their pay or benefits to keep their employers viable, economists say.

The United Auto Workers is being pushed to take wage and benefit cuts for General Motors and Chrysler to get a $17.4 billion federal loan. And labor leaders expect recessionary trouble to play a role in collective-bargaining agreements expected to begin this year at United, Southwest and Continental airlines as well as AT&T and Kroger.

This month, Gary Beevers, international vice president of the United Steelworkers, will represent 30,000 workers in contract negotiations with the oil companies.

"We'll find out at the bargaining table just how bad the oil companies think they're doing," he said. "There's no doubt they made good money over the last few years. But there's also no doubt that their margins have been bad since the recession hit."

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