Driver issuesNewsRegulation

It might have been a one-day protest at XPO Miami, but was a lot longer in the making

Source: Teamsters

Unionized workers struck XPO Logistics’ Miami terminal Tuesday in a one-day walkout over what the union said were “repeated labor law violations.”

The localized dispute appears to be a product of a long-standing battle in Miami between the Teamsters Local 769 and XPO following a 2014 vote by drivers and dockworkers to affiliate with the union. No contract between XPO and the Teamsters has been signed since then.

An administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board, in a January ruling, had three key findings. One, XPO has mostly provided its Miami area-based drivers with wage increases since then, concerned about a driver shortage. Two, the dockworkers didn’t get those raises, and in most years didn’t get any raise. Three, XPO’s non-union drivers and dockworkers in other parts of the country did get raises.

In one of the statements released by the Teamsters on the one-day strike, XPO driver Sherman Thornton was quoted as saying that it had been a “long time since we got a pay increase, and other XPO terminals are getting pay increases.” 

The administrative law judge’s decision spells out that there had been raises given to drivers consistently from January 2010 through January 2015, but cited a zero increase for Miami in April 2016. The data in the judge’s decision does not spell out further pay increases–or lack thereof–since then. 

For dockworkers, zero raises were listed for March 2015 and April 2016, though it was noted that dockworkers corporate-wide at XPO did receive increases. 

“In this case there is no question that XPO discriminated against represented employees by withholding a wage increase that it gave to non-represented employees–for the very reason that they were represented and in collective bargaining negotiations,” Judge Arthur Amchan wrote in his decision. “(XPO) was not privileged to deny corporate-wide wage increases to the Miami represented employees. Between 2010 and 2015, wage increases occurred with such regularity and frequency that employees could reasonably expect them on a regular and consistent basis.” 

The question of whether wage changes can be implemented in that time period between a vote to unionize and the signing of an actual contract is not clear; there is one interpretation of the law that says no such changes are permitted. Amchan addressed that interpretation when after citing an earlier precedent involving Shell Oil, he wrote “it is clear that when employees are denied raises for 3 years because they are in collective bargaining, their rights are substantially compromised. Support for the Union is bound to diminish under such circumstances and employees will be increasingly inclined to abandon their rights to collective bargaining.”

The strike comes as the cost of labor–always an issue in the trucking sector–becomes even more so, with endless studies and talk of driver shortages and steps needed to fix that issue.

The one-day strike in Miami wasn’t even the only labor battle that XPO had to face this week. In Laredo, Texas, local news reports said an organizing drive by the Teamsters led to demonstrations by workers mostly affiliated with a San Antonio-based local. Demonstrators in Miami also were reported to have included Teamsters workers from other areas, not just XPO workers.    

“Fewer than 20 of our more than 45,000 North American employees participated in the Teamsters’ event,” an XPO spokesman said about the occurences in Miami. “We continue to offer a rewarding place to work for our employees and top-notch service to our customers.”

In his decision, Judge Amchan ordered back pay paid to employees defined as “affected employees.” The basis for the payment would be the difference between actual pay and what the workers would have made had they seen pay increases in line with those of the workers who have not chosen to be represented by the Teamsters.

In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, the Teamsters said the Amchan decision charged XPO with “denying raises that the company was ordered to issue by an administrative law judge.” But a reading of the decision appears just to order back pay without ordering any changes in base pay. 

Meanwhile, in other labor news, the Teamsters announced it had reached a five-year contract with ABF Freight Systems, a subsidiary of ArcBest. The contract now goes to the national work force for ratification.

A call to the Teamsters local was not returned. 

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.