With trucking company YRC Worldwide Inc. struggling to survive, Teamsters general president Jim Hoffa said he understood the concerns of the company’s drivers and dock workers.
“I’m frustrated and worried about this company, too,” Hoffa said last week at the Teamsters union hall in Kansas City. “How do we get back to a strong economy that allows them to be successful again? This recession is taking away their customers.”
Hoffa was in town on Friday to give the union’s endorsement of Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat who has announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
YRC, which operates carriers employing more than 1,000 area Teamsters, said last week that it was negotiating with its lenders and the union’s pension funds about putting real estate up as collateral in place of pension payments. Those monthly pension payments ranged from $34 million to $45 million, depending on the number of people working.
That drew criticism from YRC hourly workers, who three months ago accepted a 10 percent wage cut to help the company preserve cash in the midst of the weak economy and declining loads. Rank-and-file union members were planning to protest with an informational picket at YRC’s Overland Park headquarters last Friday until it was learned that such an action would violate the national contract.
Last week Hoffa said he was monitoring the situation, although any changes YRC had proposed regarding pension payments would be negotiated with the various trustees of the funds. Hoffa did confirm that YRC made a payment to the health-and-welfare portion of the pension funds at last week’s deadline, preventing the suspension of those benefits that would have occurred this week.
On Monday in a regulatory filing, YRC said it had come to an agreement with its lenders that would allow the company to defer pension payments until at least Jan. 1.
The Kansas City area has thousands of current workers and retirees who belong to the Central States Pension Fund. After UPS Inc. withdrew from the fund last year, YRC became the biggest contributor.
Hoffa said YRC was the only national contract in which the Teamsters union had agreed to concessions during this recession. The union had worked with the carrier hoping to keep the company operating, he said.
“It’s a big employer, with 40,000 of our members,” Hoffa said. “Including families, you’re talking about more than 100,000 people who would be affected by a shutdown. We’re doing what we can, but we can’t go out and find customers for them. That’s up to the company.”