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Teamsters’ Push For Shorter Hours May Leave Drivers Very Short On Pay

It is axiomatic—a given, if you will—that unions do not like workers to work overtime. Sure, they’ll do it, but if unions had their druthers, the work week would be limited to 40 hours—in some cases unions prefer 35 hours. The reasoning is simple, the fewer hours worked, the more employees an employer must employ and, in a workplace where unions can require dues, the union makes more money.


How serious are unions about restricting overtime? Consider this:

According to the constitution of the International Association of Machinists, “Members shall discourage the working of overtime, in order to further the opportunities for full employment, a living wage, and a 40-hour workweek [Art. K, Sec. 3].” Translated: More members equals more dues.

Here’s a simple example: Say a company has four employees and each works an average of 10 overtime hours per week and time and one half. If a union has the ability to restrict those four employees from working overtime, the employer has to hire one more employee (at 40 hours).

For the employer, rather than paying the four workers at time and one half, it may be a break even (depending on the other ‘loaded labor costs’ such as benefits and fringe benefits).

For the union, it is a win, as the union suddenly gets a new member, plus his dues and initiation fees (which can run in the hundreds or thousands of dollars).

For the employees who lose their overtime, they get to spend more time with their families…trying to figure out how to pay the bills.

On June 14th, the House Small Business Committee Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations held a hearing on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed rule on Hours of Service for commercial truck drivers. At issue is the FMCSA’s proposal to return to pre-2003 hours that a truck driver can be behind the wheel—from the current 11-hours per day back to ten hours, and the current 34 hours rest period back to 50 hours at week’s end.

The return to pre-2003 hours is something the Teamsters have been lobbying for since the regulations were changed.

The Teamsters have been fighting the regulation since it was first issued in 2003. It raised the number of hours truck drivers can spend behind the wheel from 10 to 11 consecutive hours each shift, and from 60 to 77 hours of driving each week. The rule cut off-duty rest and recovery time at the work week’s end from 50 or more hours off duty to as little as 34 hours off duty.

Publicly, the Teamsters and a menagerie of liberal think tanks and activist organizations have used ‘safety’ as their rallying cry for rolling back the hours of service for drivers. This is despite the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s data shows improved truck safety since the rules were changed. According to witness James Burg of the American Trucking Association:

Truck safety has improved to unprecedented levels since 2003 when the basic framework for the current hours of service regulations was first published.  The numbers of truck-related injuries and fatalities have both dropped more than 30% to their lowest levels in recorded history.   For instance, between 2003 and 2009:

  • The number of truck-involved fatalities declined from 5,036 to 3,380 (33%)
  • The number of truck occupant fatalities declined from 726 to 503 (31%)
  • The number of truck-involved injuries declined from 122,000 to 74,000 (39%)

Despite the improvement in truck safety, the Teamsters and their allies have pushed the Obama administration to cut drivers’ hours. In late 2009, the Obama administration agreed to revisit the rules in what some considered a ‘backroom deal.’

An agreement between the Obama administration, the Teamsters Union, and safety advocate group Public Citizen to revamp existing truck driver “hours of service” regulations was pushed by the White House to quell concerns over the controversial nomination of Anne Ferro as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator, according to a trucking industry executive.

[snip]

The trucking executive noted that the full committee announced it had approved Ferro’s nomination the day after news that the FMCSA would revisit the hours of service rule was made public. Her confirmation by the full Senate seems assured, the executive said. The executive added that the trucking industry was not party to the agreement and was “totally surprised” by the announcement.

According to the backroom deal, the Department of Transportation agreed to have the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) publish a new proposed rule in the Fall of 2010, and finalize a rule by July 2011.

If the Teamsters succeed in reducing the amount of time drivers can spend behind the wheel, predictably, it will result in smaller trucking companies having to add more drivers.

As Paul James, President, Rex Oil Co testified at the June 14th hearing:

A one hour reduction as proposed would have negative impacts on drivers and small business petroleum transporters. First, the reduction would hurt drivers. Short haul petroleum drivers are largely paid at an hourly rate. Reducing their maximum daily drive time would also reduce their paychecks. Thus the proposed reduction unnecessarily penalizes drivers and would reduce their overall standard of living.

With the one hour of drive time, combined with the increase of rest time from 34 to 50 hours, if the Teamsters are successful, drivers could see their hours (and incomes) cut by as much as 25%.

Meanwhile, the increased costs to trucking companies from possibly having to add trucks—not to mention drivers—would increase substantially, requiring many smaller firms to either raise their rates, delay deliveries, or go out of business.

For those non-union companies who can survive, the additional drivers make for a target rich environment for the Teamsters. More importantly, however, would be the immediate positive impact to the Teamsters’ bottom line if unionized companies are forced to hire new drivers. Those new drivers would, in many cases, be required to become Teamster members and, as a result, the Teamsters would reap the initiation fees, as well as the membership dues.

_________________

“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

X-posted.

Photo: Grzegorz Łobiński

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