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Lawsuit Challenges Ratification Of Trucking Contract

May 27, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Dissidents are suing the Teamsters union over its acceptance of a new nationwide contract with the trucking industry despite rejection of the accord by 63.5 percent of voting affected members.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a Detroit-based dissident faction with ties to consumer advocate Ralph Nader, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court here seeking to nullify the ratification vote earlier this month and prevent the new labor contract from going into effect.

The suit claims a 1961 provision in the union’s constitution requiring a two-thirds vote for authorizing a strike was illegally interpreted as negating the need for a ″yes″ majority to accept the new three-year accord.

″This conclusion of the IBT (International Brotherhood of Teamsters) that one-third of the involved members may approve a contract and compel their fellow workers to be bound by it is a plain violation of the IBT constitution,″ the suit said.

Even if such an interpretation were valid, it added, the union illegally ″attempted to obtain ratification by gerrymandering the electorate to deny the franchise to many members covered by the agreement while giving ballots to many other members not covered ... and refusing to count many ballots.″

The Teamsters announced a week ago that it was accepting the new National Master Freight Agreement covering some 200,000 workers nationwide even though the ratification vote was 64,101 to 36,782 against it.

It was the first time in the union’s history that a majority of voting rank-and-file drivers and warehouse workers covered by the agreement had rejected a contract negotiated by Teamster leaders.

″Since the constitution requires that the final offer be accepted as a result of failure to reject by two-thirds vote, any strike or work stoppage will be a violation of the agreement and have serious consequences,″ Jack Yager, the chairman of the union’s negotiation committee, said in a statement.

Yager said 57 percent of the ballots mailed out were not returned, indicating those members were satisfied with the offer. ″If not, they would have cast ballots rejecting the contract,″ he said.

However, he and other Teamster officials have acknowledged the widespread dissension over the accord and are seeking to reopen talks with the industry’s chief bargaining arm, Trucking Management Inc.

According to leaders of the dissident faction and other local Teamster leaders, the opposed provisions include measures requiring drivers to pay for excess insurance premiums based on their accident records and damaged freight or equipment if gross negligence is proved.

Widespread rank-and-file opposition also was voiced to a measure in which workers would be required to give up 15 percent of their pay if 75 percent of the affected employees of a losing company approved the concession.

Chip Roth, a spokesman for the union, said no officials were available to comment on the suit, which was filed late Thursday afternoon.

The new contract provides annual 35-cent-an-hour wage gains over the next three years, raising the current base rate for truck drivers from $14.71 an hour to $15.06 an hour retroactive to April 1.

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