8/20/08

Teamsters mini-strike kills Ford deal

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Militant labor-state union action may hurt workers

A two-day Teamsters strike ended abruptly yesterday as workers left the picket lines upon learning that their employer apparently was no longer doing business with Ford Motor Co.

Asked why Ford had terminated its contract to load new vehicles onto railcars from both the Kentucky Truck and Louisville Assembly plants, Keith Reardon, a spokesman for Auto Port, of Flat Rock, Mich., declined comment.

Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman Angie Kozleski said little more.

"I can't talk about the relationship between Ford and Auto Port," Kozleski said.

Production of F-Series Super Duty trucks at Kentucky Truck and Explorers at Louisville Assembly continued despite the strike that began Monday and ended yesterday afternoon.

Ford previously contracted with RCS Transportation of Shelbyville to ship new vehicles.

A breakdown in talks between Auto Port and Teamsters Local 89 sparked the walkout.

Trouble started last spring when Ford awarded a three-year contract to Auto Port, bumping RCS Transportation. Within weeks, 450 Teamsters who earned between $20 and $22 per hour were informed their union was out. Auto Port invited some to reapply for their old jobs at a pay scale of between $10 and $12 an hour.

The Teamsters -- who have loaded new vehicles since both plants opened decades ago -- rallied. Negotiating behind the scenes, Local 89 President Fred Zuckerman cut a deal in June that lowered the Teamsters pay to $17 and $18 an hour, while preserving existing health and pension benefits. When RCS Transportation exited their contract, the Teamsters went to work for Auto Port via that oral agreement beginning July 1.

Auto Port is a subsidiary of CN International, an international transportation conglomerate based in Toronto.

But when talks for a new contract with Auto Port broke down, the Teamsters hit the pavement Monday on Fern Valley Road and Chamberlain Lane, outside both factories.

About noon yesterday, word spread down the picket line outside Louisville Assembly that Ford was no longer doing business with Auto Port. That message came to Local 89 Business Agent Aubrey Cheatham's cell phone shortly after pickets outside Kentucky Truck folded up.

"We took pay cuts to keep our jobs," Cheatham, 55, said. "Ford did the right thing."

Seated on his Suzuki motorcycle in the shade of a tarpaulin at roadside, J.R. Botkins, 56, noted that relief came sooner than he thought.

"It did surprise me," said Botkins, who drives tractor-trailers loaded with Explorers for shipment from a Shelbyville railyard. "I figured it would take longer than 24 hours."

"Maybe it shows that Ford does care," said Sam Rich, 57, a Teamster shop steward sitting nearby.

"We are extremely happy they are gone," Botkins said. "And Ford, regardless of whether they'll admit it, is also happy they are gone."

Zuckerman did not respond to several messages seeking comment yesterday.

The Teamster workers sort new vehicles into parking bays for shipment to Ford dealers nationwide. They also clean and maintain railcars at both plants, loading and securing new vehicles for shipment.

As the strike began, United Auto Workers Local 862 President Rocky Comito said he counseled his members not to perform Teamster duties as new trucks came off the line. Instead, UAW workers stockpiled new Super Duty trucks and Explorers in hastily assigned parking lots outside both plants, Comito said.

Teamster duties "are just not our work. We were not going to do something we were not trained to do," Comito said. And Ford didn't ask the UAW to go outside its usual duties, he added.

"Ford was good to us, really. They did not put us in a bad position."

(courier-journal.com)

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