After a slow start and some less than kind comments from both parties about tactics, progress is being reported on contract negotiations between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Arkansas Best Corp.
The two groups met this week in Kansas City to come to a new labor agreement.
The existing labor contract will expire March 31 for the about 7,500 Arkansas Best employees represented by the Teamsters. The largest subsidiary of Arkansas Best is ABF Freight System, one of the largest less-than-truckload carriers in the U.S. Most of the 7,500 are drivers but the union membership also includes dockworkers, mechanics and office staff. Arkansas Best employs more than 10,000.
Existing contract terms were agreed to in 2008 as part of a National Master Freight Agreement (NMFA) with which Arkansas Best, YRC and other trucking companies participated.
“Some progress has been made in that the company has withdrawn its initial proposal and has agreed to work from the existing agreement,” noted a Mar. 1 statement from the Teamsters. “The parties also reached tentative agreements on various non-controversial items during the week just concluded.”
Arkansas Best declined to comment on recent negotiations.
On Jan. 17, the Teamsters said Arkansas Best officials “seek to undo 50 years of bargaining history and completely rewrite the current agreement.” The Teamsters complained that Arkansas Best said it required cost savings to be competitive in the less-than-truckload industry, but didn’t have analysis of its proposals.
Gordon Sweeton, the Teamsters official co-chairing the ABF negotiations, said in the Jan. 17 Teamsters statement that “the failure of the Company to have the cost analysis of its specific proposals at its fingertips strongly suggests that the Company was not prepared to engage in legitimate bargaining and that its proposal is simply an overreaching effort designed to bludgeon worker rights.”
But in a statement issued late Friday (Mar. 1), Sweeton said negotiations were on track based on the Teamster perspective.
“We think it is a step in the right direction that the company has agreed to bargain from the existing contract and address proposals in a more traditional manner,” Sweeton said. “But with just a month to go before expiration, the company needs to get realistic on the core issues that remain open.”
According to the Teamsters, negotiations will resume the week of Mar. 11.
Not only are the parties negotiating a labor contract, they are opposing sides in a closely-watched lawsuit.
Arkansas Best has twice sought legal action against the Teamsters as part of a $750 million lawsuit. Arkansas Best alleges that wage deals between the Teamsters and YRC, a competitor of ABF Freight, violated the NMFA. The NMFA, implemented April 1, 2008, was designed to create equal labor costs and other benefit payments among trucking companies with drivers represented by the Teamsters.
The lawsuit, first filed in November 2010, was recently dismissed a second time by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright (Eastern District of Arkansas). On Oct. 29, 2012, Arkansas Best appealed the case again to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (St. Louis). The Circuit has once appealed in favor of Arkansas Best.