Teamsters launch new organizing assault on tank fleet operations

By a relatively slim margin, drivers and mechanics who work for KAG (Kenan Advantage Group) West at 17 terminals in Southern California have voted to join Teamsters Local 986 in South El Monte. The vote was 197-147 in favor of union representation.

In a press release from its national headquarters, the Teamsters leadership made it clear that this is just the beginning of a major new effort to spread the labor organization's tentacles across the tank truck industry. “Tankhaul is a core Teamster industry, which makes this such an important organizing victory,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president. “We will build on this victory and organize more professional tankhaul drivers across the country.”

Chris Griswold, secretary-treasurer of Local 986, added. “Today is a victory for KAG West employees and the tankhaul industry overall. It has been years since we've had a tankhaul organizing victory, and this win is just the beginning.”

Key issues exploited by the Teamsters cadre during the KAG West organizing effort: Drivers wanted higher wages and benefits. The company reportedly had cut the workers' hourly wage by $1.91. Workers also wanted unspecified safety improvements, to get paid time and a half for working more than eight hours a day or 40 hours per week, and paid breaks and lunches. The union argued that these should be entitlements.

Teamsters officials add that they expect to gain even more leverage for organizing drivers once the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 program takes effect. It is expected that a significant number of current drivers will be forced out of the industry, turning a growing driver shortage into a crisis. Teamsters officials believe that puts them in the driver's seat in forcing carriers to become union shops or cease operations due to lack of drivers.

KAG West workers voted August 13 and August 16. Ballots were counted August 17. No information was available on contract negotiations between KAG management and Teamsters Local 986.

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