Truck-driving Teamsters have rejected, by a ratio of 7 to 1, the first contract proposal recommended by their union's new president, Jackie Presser.
The final tally of the secret rank-and-file ballot, announced yesterday by Presser's office, was 94,086 to 13,082 against changing the the existing national agreement.
Described by Presser as "a potential solution to unemployment for the members to consider," it would have allowed trucking firms to pay lower wages to drivers recalled from layoff.
Members of the dissident Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), which had worked to defeat the "give-back," hailed their victory as "a dramatic repudiation of our millionaire president" that shows "just how badly out of touch he is with Teamsters and their needs."
Presser declined to comment, but issued a written statement saying:
"The final determination was always in the hands of the members."
He said he "felt confident about the idea that the democratic process was expressed through this referendum." Some 200,000 ballots were mailed to affected truck drivers.
An estimated four-fifths of the union's 1.8 million members today are in industries outside of trucking.
The union attributes the soaring unemployment in trucking--currently 32 percent--to the recession in combination with government deregulation.
Cheaper nonunion competition has siphoned off jobs from the highly paid Teamsters.
Presser had urged members to approve the change in their National Master Freight Agreement on the grounds that it would "restore economic dignity and security to thousands of laid-off Teamsters and their families" by allowing them to recapture jobs lost to lower-paid nonunion workers.
In light of massive give-backs by other unions, he argued, this change was "moderate and reasonable."
Last month Presser's office issued a statement clarifying the terms of the proposed change to counter what he called the "baseless lies" being spread by the opposition.
"The plan allows our members to help their brothers and sisters, with no pay cuts and at no cost to themselves, as opposed to the concessions many other unions have been forced to make," the statement said.
As controversy over the proposal mounted, aides to Presser said he was treading a fine line between getting out-of-work members back to work and being perceived as selling out.
The proposal would have enabled trucking firms to pay over-the-road drivers rehired for truckload work between 22 cents and 24 cents per mile, instead of 32 to 36 cents, and local cartage drivers (making no overnight stops) $11 per hour instead of $13.85.
Some 100,000 unemployed Teamsters might have been affected by the Presser proposal, which applied only to those laid off before last April 6, union officials said.
The dissidents contended that the lowered pay rates would have created two different classes of union drivers, one making as little as two-thirds the pay for the same work. They warned the rank and file that this pay cut ultimately would have pulled down all the drivers' wages.
They also said there was no guarantee that the cut would bring many laid-off workers back to work.
The union granted economic concessions to the freight industry in March 1982, under then-president Roy L. Williams, when the existing contract was signed.
Labor experts indicated that it would be unusual for a powerful union to grant more concessions so quickly.
Dissident Teamster Bob Masters said, "Presser has never stood for election in this union, and he is not a trade unionist. He sees the union through the eyes of a millionaire businessman . . . .
"I think he is trying to say farewell to the trucking membership, trying to deemphasize the importance of freight to the union. But that would be destroying the union's backbone."
Presser announced after he took office last spring that he would focus Teamsters' organizing drives on new high-technology industries.
Trucking Management Inc., the bargaining arm for the trucking industry, expressed disappointment at the Teamsters vote. "Our goal remains to work with the Teamsters to find ways to improve conditions in the trucking industry," said TMI president Arthur H. Bunte Jr.