Teamsters union negotiators agreed yesterday to a new nationwide trucking contract that reportedly includes a wage freeze, a reduction in cost-of-living increases and other major concessions aimed at preserving the remaining union jobs in the industry.
Details of the new contract were not announced, pending ratification by the union rank-and-file, but Teamster President Roy L. Williams said the provisions will protect the jobs of some 300,000 Teamster drivers and other employes covered by the National Master Freight contract.
Since the last contract was signed three years ago more than 120,000 Teamsters have lost jobs because of the economic slump and new competition from nonunion truckers taking advantage of government deregulation of the industry.
Williams and Arthur H. Bunte Jr., president of Trucking Management Inc., which bargains for the industry, praised the "cooperative atmosphere" in the trucking talks, one of two major industry negotiations that are expected to set trends for a new three-year bargaining cycle for American labor that begins this year.
In the other major negotiations, the Ford Motor Co. yesterday presented the United Auto Workers with an offer of profit sharing and increased job security in return for reductions in labor costs and paid personal holidays.
Neither side would discuss details of the proposal, but Donald Ephlin, the UAW's chief negotiator with Ford, called the company's offer "a murky, confusing document" that took "an almost 180-degree turn" from the UAW's original proposal. Ford officials said they were pleased with the plan.
Ford's proposal is also very different from the contract framework that the General Motors Corp. and the UAW have been working on in separate negotiations, union sources said. The UAW has set a negotiating deadline of Jan. 23 for both auto companies, who are seeking labor cost concessions now, eight months before the end of the current contract, to ease their serious financial positions.
According to sources close to the trucking negotiations, the Teamsters leadership accepted a contract that includes a wage freeze for at least one year. It was not clear whether the agreement would permit the Teamsters to seek a renegotiation of the freeze later on in the 39-month contract.
Sources said the Teamsters also accepted a change in work rules that have been a major source of union job protection for more than half the union membership in the industry.
Under the new agreement, long-distance drivers could deliver shipments directly to customers, rather than to city transfer points for final delivery by other drivers. It was not known yesterday whether this concession is partial or complete. "That would make a big difference in how many city drivers we lose," said one Teamster source.
The trucking industry also won a reduction in cost-of-living adjustments. Under the new contract cost of living payments would be paid only once a year instead of twice, and a portion of the payment would be a contribution to Teamster pensions.
The tentative agreement, reached in simultaneous negotiations in Washington, Chicago and Kansas City, now goes to the Teamsters' 110-member negotiating committee, and then to rank-and-file members. The current agreement expires March 31.
Williams said the contract "will preserve the jobs of those now employed and will help regain the thousands of jobs lost through layoffs and business failures in the trucking industry."
Similar goals underlie the auto industry negotiations. UAW officials have called for pledges from Ford and GM to limit their purchases of components from foreign sources, a trend that has grown sharply in the past year as the auto makers seek to cut overhead costs in an effort to preserve jobs.
"This proposal permits us to begin to address the cost problems facing the industry while at the same time not cutting wages," a Ford negotiator said. Instead, labor costs would be lowered by a reduction in the paid personal holidays that UAW members now receive, in addition to time off for vacations and national holidays, sources said.
GM and UAW leaders startled the rest of the industry, and many in the union, apparently, with their agreement to use all labor savings to reduce the price of GM cars.
Ford said yesterday it still has not decided whether it is willing to make the same commitment.