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Teamsters fight TForce Freight truck slowdowns

Union files NLRB charge over a move to limit speeds to 65 mph

TForce Freight power units sit parked at a terminal in Connecticut. (Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves)

The Teamsters union is fighting a move by TFI International’s TForce Freight to cut the maximum speed of trucks from 68 to 65 mph.  

The union’s national negotiating committee for TForce quietly filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board on July 12. It alleges that TForce, formerly UPS Freight, violated federal law by modifying the speed limiters without consulting the union and refusing to negotiate after the fact.

“Changing the speed governors directly impacts employee earning capacity, hours of work, hours of service, and safety, which are all mandatory subjects of bargaining,” the complaint states. “The company has refused to rescind its unilateral action and has refused to bargain about its decision and effects on unit employees.”

The NLRB is investigating the complaint. It emerged as an early flashpoint between TFI (NYSE:TFII) and the Teamsters after the Canadian company assumed ownership of UPS Freight on April 30.

TFI acquired UPS’ LTL operation for $800 million with plans to aggressively boost profits while reining in costs. CEO Alain Bedard has signaled willingness to work with the Teamsters, which represent employees at some of TFI’s Canadian operations. 

But he also suggested there are limits: “We live with it, we work with them. But we manage the company.”

‘It’s like working 30 minutes extra a day for free,’ driver says

The speed reduction, implemented in June, has angered many drivers at TForce Freight who have already viewed the new owner with skepticism. The change effectively extended the working day of linehaul drivers who run regular schedules while reducing the maximum daily earnings potential for others. 

“That may not seem much, but it adds 30 minutes a day to your run,” said a TForce driver, who spoke on the condition that his name isn’t used  “And since you’re paid by the mile it’s like working 30 minutes extra a day for free.”

Another driver, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the speed reduction has hit morale — particularly since TFI’s rollout of new trucks has been slow.

“We’re spending more time on the road, less time at home, driving old equipment,” the driver said. “You get a worse attitude.”

Bedard told analysts in July that the company reduced the speed of trucks “to be safer on the road.”

“When we bought the company, the trucks were running at 68 miles per hour and then we did the study of our peers in the U.S. and we found out that everybody is at 65. So why run 68? Well, it’s because, you know, nobody knows why,” he said.

Reducing truck speeds is part of a long list of measures TFI has been taking to improve profits at an LTL operation that struggled to make money under UPS (NYSE:UPS). In the first months of ownership, TFI brought TForce’s operating ratio, from a barely profitable 99% to below 95%.

The company accomplished that largely by cutting or repricing unprofitable freight from its network. Recently, it laid off a significant number of sales staff. 

TFI is hoping that a promised refresh of TForce’s aging truck fleet would amount to a win-win for the company and drivers. But the rollout has been slower than expected amid delivery delays from manufacturers. 

Drivers said speed reduction and lack of new trucks are contributing to the wave of post-acquisition departures — and TForce’s struggles to replace them

“It was the last straw for some,” a driver said.

Cutting truck speeds gains traction, but TForce driver sees ‘accident waiting to happen’

The idea of reducing truck speeds has gained traction in recent years with proponents arguing it improves safety and fuel economy. Bipartisan legislation, the Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act, would cap the speed of commercial vehicles at 65 mph, or 70 mph with certain safety technologies in place. 

The bill’s backers include the American Trucking Associations, Truckload Carriers Association and Alliance for Driver Safety & Security. But the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes it, saying it would make the roads more dangerous by increasing the speed difference between trucks and passenger cars. 

The Teamsters do not appear to have taken a stance on the bill. But in Canada, the union came out against Ontario’s speed limiter legislation in 2009, though it subsequently became law. 

A TForce driver disputed the benefits of the change.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,”  the driver said. “We’re stuck in the slow lane with people trying to get around us, people tailgating us.”

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  1. Nicholas Clark

    Looks like things are going to get ugly come contract time with them already entering a grey area based on the definition of (welfare benefits) that along with healthcare benefits are REQUIRED to be provided by TeamCare but now ONLY health insurance is being provided by TeamCare and it doesn’t seem they are getting much push back, from the unions, to me this is an indicator of what to come when contracts expire.
    They will try to offload our amazing health insurance for some crap that I will be left scratching my head at how it can be called insurance, despite them making a profit (more so than ever before) which give the union a strong argument to not give up ANY ground. But I’m sure our unions will cave and encourage us to sign the deal presented (it’s the best they can do, I have heard that lie several times only to be shown the companies negotiating plan after the fact by a friend which show we could have got much more on every aspect of the contract.)

    They will probably strip out the pension plan because us lowly working class employees don’t deserve such benefits.

  2. Freight Zippy

    Once again the unions are demanding a company run it operations they way they want. Without any skin in the game.
    The Teamsters again demand their 1940’s work rules are what is best for a modern company operating in this new age.
    No wonder we only have 3 teamster LTL carriers remaining vs. thousands years ago..
    Keep it up, there will be none…

    1. Dick Bischoff

      simpleton response to say the least. No skin in the game, how so? I’m not a teamster and don’t really care for unions but they clearly have skin in the game and lots of it.

      1. Jack

        Today’s unions are dinosaurs, they need to work with the new rules. Pay by the hour with ELDs in the trucks.Perfect sense! Negotiate that in your next contract ,it is the 21st century.

  3. Vincent R Meyers, Sr

    I run through posted speed limit. 70 in most of the country someplace 65.
    Anything that shows the truck below the posted speed is a risk to the driver.

    1. Robert Miles

      With a yearly salary of over 10million plus other perks who is he kidding about “profit “ It’s just a money grab attempt A little at a time.

  4. Pete Distenfeld

    No one seems to remember history. Ohio and Virginia had split speed limit laws for years. 65 for cars, 55 for trucks. They both did away with it due to the pressure from the police. Yes, the police they knew it was very dangerous to have split speed limits, now they want to try it again, the definition of insanity.

    1. Johnny

      The real danger is the truck that runs at .01 MPH faster than the one in front of it. Most drivers today run against the governor or on cruise and will not under any circumstance come off it. The issue comes when they inevitably pull into the passing lane (usually cutting off much faster traffic), then take 10 minutes to pass and bottleneck the highway so everyone that runs faster does a Nascar restart after said truck finally gets back over. That’s where the danger is.

  5. Raymond Steele

    There has always been a big difference between driver’s and management. For safety purposes the difference between cars and truck speed is significant that should change and think about pulling triples instead of doubles in most all states. With ltl. freight .

  6. Dick Bischoff

    “When we bought the company, the trucks were running at 68 miles per hour and then we did the study of our peers in the U.S. and we found out that everybody is at 65. So why run 68? Well, it’s because, you know, nobody knows why,” he said.”

    If all of Bedard’s peers were jumping off cliffs if appears Bedard would join them. What a flippant comment he makes above. Certainly not going to help his standing with the majority or workers who are union. He’s reduced the speed of the trucks to save money on fuel, nothing more, nothing less. What he gets in return are pissed off union line haul drivers who end up working more hours for less money. He already is short 1000 plus city drivers and 1000 plus line haul drivers. Because of that he has to use purchased line haul which costs a lot more than a company employed driver. He also is using cartage help at many barns which lack enough city drivers to handle freight volumes. He is using sister company CFI TL for some of the purchased line haul. Slower trucks also means delays in moving the freight you’ve already picked up and it delays getting it delivered to the customer. Slower trucks means you need more drivers to move the same amount/tonnage of freight. TForce cannot find drivers and are desperate to get more. Why would Bedard take actions ( reduce speeds) that just exacerbate the crisis he is facing. TForce has hundreds of shippers every day that don’t get their freight picked up because of their driver shortage, this move by Bedard only makes matters worse.

    1. Bart Davidson

      Wow! Spot on – I was employed at Vitran and saw the same nonsense. Tforce ain’t gonna be around much longer with the staggering facts listed in the above note.

  7. Alex D.

    Fact would be teamsters don’t own the company. The company does and it makes the rules the workers follow. In the words of somebody suck it up buttercup. 30 more minutes for free. How about 2 hrs free sitting at the dock.

    1. Vince M

      They do represent the driver and it is a direct relationship to pay so they are well within their rights and contractual obligation to fight this.

    2. Driver X

      If you want to work for free be my guest. I’m not that stupid. If there’s a way to fight it that’s what we need to do not just lay down.
      They’re going to close five terminals and they’re going to send your freight to other companies And when the contract comes theyre going to put it to you And you’re just gonna lay down and vote for it. So who’s the buttercup?

    3. Driver X

      If you want to work for free be my guest. I’m not that stupid. If there’s a way to fight it that’s what we need to do not just lay down.
      They’re going to close five terminals and they’re going to send your freight to other companies they already fired me sales staff. All those people got to go home to families And tell them they don’t have a job. But it doesn’t matter to you you got a job for now.And when the contract comes theyre going to put it to you And you’re just gonna lay down and vote for it. So who’s the buttercup?

    4. Driver X

      Who is the butter cup? You’re the one who votes for the contract no matter what they offer. You’re the one who don’t care when they fire all the sales staff. You’re the one who don’t care when they close down five terminals. You’re the one who doesn’t care when they send your freight to other companies. Do you want to work for free? you need to think about all those people Who went home to tell their families they don’t have a job anymore. Tforce is carving us up and they don’t care about you. They wanna lean and mean company right? Doesn’t matter who gets hurt in the process. Next time you want to work for free for two hours you just think about it do you still got a job for now Buttercup.

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected].