Teamsters prefer pay cuts to dues hit

Reed Jetter came to a state employment office yesterday to apply for his current job at less than half the pay. He's one of 450 members of Teamsters union Local 89 who are the latest casualties of cost-cutting by Ford Motor Co. Ford switched rail companies that ship new vehicles from the Louisville Assembly and Kentucky Truck plants, meaning the Teamsters and their $20-$22 hourly pay scale will be gone by month's end.

Replacing RCS Transportation, based in Shelbyville, will be a Michigan firm that uses union labor, but pays $10 to $12 per hour for the same work loading F-Series Super Duty trucks and Explorer sport utility vehicles onto railcars.

"I feel rage inside," Jetter, 48, of Okolona, said as he stared at the job description informing him that he could interview next week with Auto Port Ltd., the new company Ford signed on. "I can't live on $400 a week. I can't even afford to drive to Kentucky Truck for that."

Rail contractors have come and gone before at Ford. But Teamsters have always stayed to work for the new company, Local 89 President Fred Zuckerman said yesterday. Teamsters have been loading Ford vehicles since the opening of Louisville Assembly in 1956 and Kentucky Truck in 1969, he added.

The Teamsters' contract expires June 1.

"That is not loyalty," Teamster Tony Dorsey, 55, said yesterday. Ford recently won $60 million in state tax incentives to upgrade production tooling at the truck plant and keep jobs here, Dorsey noted.

"It is all about the 'ching ching,' " Jetter said.

Shaving costs "is a routine part of doing business," Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said yesterday in an interview from the company's Dearborn, Mich., headquarters. Asked whether Ford had broken faith with the Teamsters and how much had been saved by the switch, Evans declined comment.

Auto Port employs members of the Machinists union, Evans said.

Ken Koch, president of Machinists Local 681 in Louisville, declined comment yesterday.

"I understand cost cutting," Teamster driver James Frensley, 50, of Taylorsville, said as he stood outside the employment office downtown contemplating paperwork informing him of state tuition assistance.

Auto Port, based in Flat Rock, Mich., is a subsidiary of CN Worldwide, which operates the Canadian National Railway.

Denise Weeks, human-relations manager at Auto Port, and Bryan Tucker, a CN spokesman at the company's Montreal headquarters, could not be reached for comment.

RCS Transportation served notice on Monday that it will no longer perform railyard work for Ford. RCS Transportation President Bruce Nethery could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Local 89, which has 17,000 members, will fight to keep the railyard jobs in Teamster hands, lobbying government officials who authorized recent state incentives for Ford and rallying other unions to stand behind them, including the United Auto Workers, Zuckerman said yesterday.

"That's not economic development when you're replacing good jobs with bad jobs," he said. "They are just destroying the jobs, and the Machinists are helping them."


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