TUKWILA, Wash., April 8, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- A story that started more than four years ago has at long last reached a satisfying conclusion today, as carhaul drivers working for North American Auto Transport throughout the Western U.S. have successfully ratified their first-ever Teamster contract.
This contract will make the group of nearly 70 drivers and mechanics into full-fledged Teamsters – many for the first time in their careers—after a grueling battle of company ownership versus employees that nearly led to bankruptcy and dissolution of the company.
This story of worker triumph began with a successful organizing drive at carhaul company Selland Auto Transport nearly four years ago, when Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks received a lead for a potential organizing campaign from Local 174 Director of Organizing Meaza Ogbe and Recording Secretary/Senior Business Agent Carl Gasca. When Hicks realized that the opportunity at Selland spanned five different Teamster Joint Councils across the West, he reached out to IBT Carhaul Director Kevin Moore to suggest a Regional Agreement. Following that discussion, a plan was developed and eventually workers across California, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Montana all voted to join the Teamsters to improve their conditions on the job. Once that vote was certified, contract negotiations with Selland management began.
However, it quickly became apparent that Selland management was willing to do anything they could to impede the process of negotiating a fair contract with their employees. Management fought back against even the most basic and non-controversial tenets of a union contract; they paid steep fines for illegally retaliating against union supporters; they endured a one-day strike that halted their operations up and down the West Coast; they watched their most experienced workers leave the company to find better working conditions elsewhere; and they watched their business wither as they insisted on focusing all their time, energy and resources on waging war against their employees' rights to fair treatment on the job.
Eventually, as Selland teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, company ownership finally admitted defeat and sold the company's remaining operations to North American Auto Transport. Once the purchase was finalized, union-friendly North American leadership and the Teamsters were able to quickly work through the remaining issues and reach a contract proposal that was acceptable and fair to both sides.
Over the course of this past weekend, drivers in Seattle, Portland, San Bernardino and Martinez attended meetings in their respective cities to learn about and vote on the proposed contract. The votes were counted today, and the contract was ratified by a margin of over 91 percent.
The new contract makes dramatic improvements to just about every aspect of the job. Improved 'Hours of Service' rules will much more effectively protect drivers from unsafe excessive overtime; a robust grievance procedure will protect drivers from unjust discipline; bargaining unit work will be protected from widespread subcontracting; and crucially, owner-operators will finally receive access to life-changing benefits they never had before, including protection from layoff based on seniority, access to healthcare and access to retirement. Most importantly of all, workers will soon find that the favoritism that ran rampant at Selland Auto Transport will be a thing of the past under this new agreement.
On the economic side, the most substantial improvement of the contract is in health care, as workers will move from an expensive and inferior company plan into high-quality Teamster medical with significantly lower out-of-pocket cost. This means that for many workers, health care will improve dramatically while simultaneously putting an extra $500-$600 per month back in their pockets. In addition, all drivers will receive a wage increase, which for some drivers will be the first raise they've seen in more than nine years.
"There are a lot of people I wish could be here today," said longtime Selland-turned-North American employee Tim Charles, a Teamsters Local 174 member who served on the rank-and-file bargaining committee and attended all negotiating sessions through the endless four-year slog. "So many people left the company as this process dragged on, and I don't blame them. I just wish they could be here to celebrate this with us. This contract is going to change everything, and I'm so glad we finally made it to the finish line."
"It's a new day at this company and a new day for these hardworking Teamster drivers and mechanics," said Roy Gross, Assistant Director of the IBT Carhaul Division and lead negotiator of this contract. "Everyone involved can now move forward and focus on doing what we do best: our members will focus on transporting vehicles safely and efficiently, and company management will focus on growing and earning back the business that Selland management lost."
"This contract is the best possible outcome to a grueling and pointless battle," said IBT Carhaul Division Director Kevin Moore. "The former Selland management learned an important lesson here: going to war against the people who make your money for you never pays off. We are thankful that North American Auto Transport was able to negotiate fairly and reach a good contract, and most of all, we are all thankful the fight is over now and these workers can move on to a brighter future under a strong Teamster contract."
"This contract will be the template to restore the once mighty but currently nonexistent carhaul industry in the West under the leadership and guidance of Brother Moore. Drivers in this specialized field will finally realize the value they provide to these companies," Hicks said.