Friday, July 24, 2009

This is No Way to Win the Hearts and Minds (and Votes) From the Teamsters

YRC Worldwide Chairman and CEO Bill Zollars has been forced to apologize to the company's Teamsters employees after making public comments hinting that the company's non-union work force would not have to take further cuts in pay. That angered YRC's 30,000 Teamsters, who already have taken a 10 percent wage cut and freezes in their pension payments. Currently YRC's Teamsters are in the process of voting on approval an additional 5 percent wage cut and more cuts in pension payments.

Memo to Bill Zollars: Next time you might get the urge to say something derogatory about your Teamster work force, wait until after they are voting to approve yet another wage and benefit cut that you and your management team foisted on them.

In the This-Can't-Be-True-Oh-Yes-It-Is category, Zollars has been forced to backtrack from comments he made regarding YRC's non-union employees.

What Zollars said originally was he didn't think YRC's non-union employees would have to take further compensation cuts. That angered YRC's Teamsters, who are this very moment are being asked to vote on yet another wage and benefit cut package floated in order to keep the financially ailing trucking company afloat.

Already, YRC Teamsters have OK'd a 10 percent wage cut and a freeze in their pensions. They are now being asked to approve another 5 percent wage cut (through 2013) and pension freezes for the next 14 to 18 months. That is expected to save the company approximately $900 million annually, combined.

YRC already has been kicked out (temporarily, at least) from the Central States pension plan, the Teamsters' largest, for lack of timely payments. If that wasn't enough of a red flag to raise in front of the Teamsters' bulls, Zollars' hamhanded remakrs surely set them over the top.

Zollars was forced to issue a public apology in the form of a letter to Teamsters union president James P. "Jim" Hoffa, son of the legendary labor leader.

In the letter, made public by the union, Zollars said: "YRCW is committed to the principle of 'shared sacrifice' and will require that our non-union employees take as much, if not more, cuts in wages and benefits as provided by our union employees...The companies' financial books and records will be made available as verify that non-union employees have provided equal sacrifice."

What impact Zollars' comments will have on the rank-and-file voting to approve this life-or-death package of wage and benefit cuts is unknown. But it can't help.

David Ross, analyst with Stifel Nicolaus, Baltimore, called the incident "one more thing out there that gets all the employees riled up." He called the incident an example of YRC not being "mindful" of all the stakeholders in this process.

Maybe it was an honest mistake. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue. Maybe it was just a goof. Whatever it was, Zollars has got to know better.

Next time anything is up for a vote regarding the Teamsters, maybe the smartest strategy would be to say nothing at all.

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