Negotiators for ABF Freight, the unionized less-than-truckload (LTL) unit of ArcBest Corp., and the Teamsters union, which represents about 8,600 ABF employees, reached a tentative agreement last night on a collective bargaining agreement to replace the compact that is set to expire March 31.
At the same time, both sides agreed to extend the current compact until a new one is ratified by the rank and file, the Teamsters said today. No details on the new proposed deal were disclosed.
The next and probably the most difficult step will be selling the proposal to ABF's union workers, a truculent group that took four months to ratify the 2013 compact after the company and union leaders had signed off on it, and almost shut down the carrier in the process. Union leaders are scheduled to meet with workers April 10 and 11 to discuss the proposal.
The current negotiations were not expected to be easy given that ABF workers in 2013 agreed to a 7-percent wage cut at the front end of the contract, with the cuts to be fully restored over the contract's life. ABF has said the members have been made whole, but some on the Teamsters side said the increases received by the rank and file were actually cost-of-living adjustments pegged to levels that had been adjusted downward once the 7-percent cut took effect. As a result, the front-end cuts were actually never restored, according to those union interests.
The other main issue is expected to be management's contributions to employee pensions. ABF workers' pensions are much higher than those at unionized rival YRC Freight, which agreed to draconian pension cuts in 2009 to keep the then-ravaged company solvent. ABF has made clear that the gap between the two pension contributions is a key factor in its ability to be cost-competitive in the marketplace.
The two sides first exchanged proposals on Dec. 18, with the Teamsters' freight division seeking cost-of-living adjustments for each year of the contract and ABF calling for an across-the-board wage freeze effective July 1, 2018. The company had agreed to restore one week's vacation for union members that was eliminated in the 2013 contract, with the condition that the two sides identify cost savings to offset the increased expense associated with adding back the vacation week.