The Teamsters union and the trucking industry opened one of 1985's biggest labor negotiations yesterday, with Teamsters president Jackie Presser going into his first nationwide trucking talks at a time when his members are losing jobs and their employers going bankrupt.
More than 100,000 Teamsters drivers have lost jobs, while hundreds of firms with total revenues of more than $3 billion have failed since the 1980 deregulation of trucking made it easier for more than 10,000 new nonunion operators to hit the nation's roads.
Presser would not discuss bargaining goals yesterday, but internal documents indicate that the union will push to limit the use of nonunion subcontractors and nonunion subsidiaries which many union carriers have employed since 1980.
Wage and pension increases are also high on the agenda, especially because the 200,000 Teamsters covered by the National Master Freight Agreement have not had a raise in the $13.60 hourly average since 1982.
The three-year national contract expires April 1. The last strike was in 1979 and lasted 10 days.
The industry's major bargaining group, Trucking Management Inc., representing 35 large firms employing about half the drivers covered by the national pact, would not discuss its bargaining agenda, but it is expected to renew its push for a "two-tier" wage scale that would set permanently lower salaries for new drivers and for those recalled from layoff.
The national Teamster contract, while covering fewer drivers and firms than ever in its 20-year history, is nonetheless considered a pattern-setter that affects hundreds of thousands of unionized truckers who work for companies not covered by the national contract.
"I am optimistic about the forthcoming talks and confident that we can jointly find solutions to the problems that face us in the freight industry," said Presser, who made opening statements at the Hyatt Regency Hotel with Trucking Management Inc. President Arthur H. Bunte Jr.
Bunte, whose organization has shrunk to 35 firms from more than 400 before deregulation, said he would seek a new contract "which will recognize today's competitive realities." Trucking Management, the largest of three bargaining groups, received noneconomic proposals from the union yesterday and talks will resume Jan. 29.
For Presser, who was named head of the 1.9-million-member union in 1983 but will not stand for election until 1986, the negotiations are a major hurdle following the overwhelming rejection of his last initiative in trucking. Presser, in a midterm reopening of the last nationwide contract, proposed a concessionary agreement including a two-tier pay system. The drivers, however, rejected his proposal by a vote of 94,000 to 13,000.
Kenneth Paff, speaking for a dissident union faction named Teamsters for a Democratic Union, said his group supports many of Presser's current proposals but will organize strong opposition if the union backs off key demands. "Jackie has never worked in trucking and doesn't know the industry. He doesn't know a truck from an onion," Paff said.
Earlier in the day, Vice President Bush met briefly with Presser and the Teamsters executive board, "largely to thank the union" for endorsing the Reagan-Bush election ticket last October, according to Teamster spokesman Duke Zeller.
Bush and the union leadership also briefly discussed the union's opposition to deregulation and to National Labor Relations Board Chairman Donald L. Dotson, Zeller said, "but did not get into anything concrete."