To hear less-than-truckload carrier ABF Freight System tell it, the carrier and the Teamsters union are discussing a proposal aimed at wringing wage concessions and pension payment deferrals out of ABF's unionized employees.
To hear the Teamsters tell it, nothing of the sort is taking place.
The disagreement took root on Nov. 17 at the annual TransComp Exhibition and Intermodal Expo in Anaheim, Calif., when ABF Chief Operating Officer Wesley Kemp reportedly said the company was in concession talks with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). ABF was seeking wage cuts totaling 15 percent through the four remaining years of its collective-bargaining agreement with the union as well as an 18-month deferral of pension payments, he said.
These are demands already agreed to by Teamster members employed at ABF rival YRC Worldwide Inc. But ABF's offer comes with different terms. While YRC workers are receiving options on the company's stock that could be exercised at a pre-set price, ABF has proposed that employees participate in a profit-sharing plan in return for agreeing to the concessions.
The next day, the Teamsters issued a statement saying the union is holding no talks or discussions with ABF. National Freight Director Tyson Johnson said in the statement that the union is "not having contract or concession discussions" with ABF, and that he has contacted ABF to "demand that they correct the record."
The day after that, ABF spokesman Danny Loe issued a statement saying there is "obviously a difference of opinion as to how one would characterize the communication that's taken place between ABF and the IBT concerning wage concessions. That being the case, it's likely best not to debate those semantics in a public forum."
A source close to ABF said the company, worried about the prospect of YRC's gaining a significant cost advantage from the wage givebacks and pension deferrals, could wait no longer to make similar demands of its Teamster employees. The source confirmed that a proposal was presented to the Teamsters and surmised the union's public rebuke was based on the use of words like "talks" and "negotiations" that imply a more formal negotiating process is under way.
"It's more a matter of semantics than anything else," the source said.