US Unions Taking Action Over Health, Safety And Retiree Pensions

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PROPOSED rules by the Bush regime’s Transportation Security Administration for the US railway system ignore necessary employee training and protections against employer retaliation.

The Teamsters Union is still reviewing the rules, issued last week, but so far has determined that the proposals are inadequate.

‘The White House has failed again to recognise that the true eyes and ears of the rail system are its employees,’ said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President.

‘Our members are working on the rails night and day. They know about the security lapses on the rails, yet the railroads refuse to provide quality training for them in preparation for emergencies.’

The proposed rules highlight the dangerous cargo transported by freight rail, but there is nothing in them that would compel a rail corporation to provide effective emergency situation training for employees.

The thousands of miles of tracks throughout the country are wide open for a terrorist attack or act of sabotage.

The security of the public and rail employees is at risk.

‘We call on the Bush administration and its TSA to mandate emergency situation training for the thousands of rail employees on the job every day,’ said John Murphy, Director of the Teamsters Rail Conference.

‘And we call on them to create adequate employee protections so that those employees reporting safety and security breakdowns will not face retaliation.’

The Teamsters Rail Conference represents more than 70,000 rail workers employed as locomotive engineers, trainmen and maintenance of way workers across the United States as members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees.

Meanwhile the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) are also taking action on the health and safety front.

USWA retirees and their union have filed a class action lawsuit against Continental Tire North America, Inc (CTNA) to force the tyre maker to uphold its obligations to thousands of retirees, spouses, and surviving spouses to provide retiree medical benefits throughout retirement. 

The lawsuit was filed on December 13, 2006 in the US District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Western Division. 

The retirees allege CTNA breached agreements promising lifetime insurance coverage by announcing that effective on various dates in 2007 it will shift a large part of the cost of retiree medical coverage from the company to the retirees and surviving spouses. 

CTNA’s violation of those agreements is actionable under the Labour Management Relations Act (LMRA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

The retirees claim the rights to receive retiree medical benefits were earned and vested over decades of service at the tire and rubber facilities of CTNA.

Rights to retirement benefits were created through collective bargaining between CTNA and the Union that had represented the retirees while they were employed. 

Virtually the same language from these agreements promised lifetime retiree medical benefits for retirees and spouses at CTNA facilities, such as plants in Akron, Ohio, Mayfield, Kentucky, Charlotte, North Carolina, Waco, Texas, and Bryan, Ohio. 

‘In late November, CTNA sent letters to me and other retirees announcing that, effective in 2007, it “will be implementing a $3,000 cap on the Company contribution to the cost of health care coverage for retirees and their eligible dependents,” said Mike Dassaro, a CTNA retiree and plaintiff from Charlotte.

‘ “They think they have the right to alter my benefits and make me pay for it, but they must not have read the contracts. 

‘ “It is important for everyone that we stand up for what’s right”.’

Plaintiffs seek a declaration that their rights to retiree health care benefits provided under agreements and the Group Insurance Plan cannot be unilaterally modified or terminated by Defendants, a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting such modification or termination, and damages and equitable relief to remedy the reduction in benefits.

Overall, the USWA presents more than 850,000 members in the US and Canada. Some 70,000 are employed in the tyre, rubber and plastics industry.

Also,  more than 130 drivers, helpers and mechanics who work for Allied Waste Services in Fort Worth, Texas went on strike on Monday, December 18, in response to continued stall tactics by the company during ongoing contract negotiations that began in November.

The workers, who voted unanimously to go out on strike, service Fort Worth and 25 cities in the area.

Allied faces multiple unfair labour practice charges from the union as the company has repeatedly refused to negotiate in good faith.

The contract expired on December 10, and negotiations have been hampered by countless delays.

‘From the beginning our goal has been to protect our members’ rights and move toward a fair resolution,’ said Wesley Jenkins, President, Teamsters Local 767.

‘However, Allied’s representatives have employed every stall tactic and excuse they could think of to deny these workers their rights as unionised employees.’

With blatant disregard for the workers, Allied walked away from negotiations last week, suggesting that the two sides should meet after the New Year.

‘Allied may think it’s acceptable to take a long vacation before this is resolved, but our union is responsible for the well-being of 130 workers and their families,’ Jenkins said.

‘We represent our members’ interests 365 days a year, whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day. The company’s actions clearly show how little they value their workers.’

Cesar Lira, an Allied worker and Local 767 steward, knows that he cannot stand idly by and allow the company to marginalise its workers.

‘I have a wife and four kids at home to think about,’ Lira said. ‘Would I rather be home with them getting ready for the period over Christmas?

‘Of course. But if I am not here, on this line, fighting for our rights as union workers, my family’s future will never be secure.’