Both sides emerged looking relieved after Teamsters negotiators, representing Seattle Times truck drivers, met for the first time last week with a quartet of officials from Penske Logistics, which is related to the truck-leasing company. They had just discussed Seattle Times Co. plans to outsource the trucking unit for both the Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to Penske starting Feb. 29. Penske's proposal to hire only Teamsters to drive trucks for the Times left the union optimistic; the Teamsters, in turn, muted their earlier threats to fight the outsourcing to Penske.
The goodwill didn't last long. A Times Co. unfair labor practice complaint arrived at Teamsters Seattle headquarters after the meeting, charging the union, which represents 74 truckers and mechanics, failed to bargain in good faith during the period leading up to the end of their contract a month from now. The Teamsters immediately fired back with their own complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), countering that not only was it the Times that was refusing to bargain in good faith but that the Seattle Times Co. had tried to intimidate the truckers by issuing "a fraudulent document purporting to be a WARN Act notice," telling the Teamsters their Times jobs would be going to Penske.
WARN Act notices must be sent by employers to workers involved in large layoffs at least 60 days before the jobs are terminated, according to federal law. The Times sent its WARN Act notice for the Feb. 29 Teamsters layoffs on Jan. 15.
In a press release Tuesday, Jan. 29, outlining its position, Teamsters Local 174 noted that it had agreed to a one-year wage freeze to ease what Times officials say is a critical financial crunch. "Rather than using that time to regroup," said Rick Hicks, secretary-treasurer of the local, which represents the truckers, "the Times used it to find a way to force wage cuts through outsourcing."
The exchange of labor complaints sets the stage for a showdown between the city's two daily papers, which function under a joint operating agreement (JOA) under which the Times handles printing, trucking, and marketing for both it and the P-I – and the Teamsters, who are fearful that a wholesale outsourcing of Times trucking could set a precedent for other financially stressed newspapers around the country.
Zero hour could come as soon as Thursday, Jan. 31, by which time the Times is required to give the Teamsters another formal notification that their contract is terminated and the outsourcing will begin.
If the Times does not file the notification, says a person involved on the Teamsters side of the negotiations, "our position is that the contract continues and the outsourcing is illegal." If the Times goes ahead with outsourcing plans anyway, this official says, "we'll take legal action, which could include a strike."
On the other hand, if the Times does not give Teamsters truckers the required 30-day notice, it could be signaling that the outsourcing will not take place as planned – that other options may be on the table. Jill Mackie, a Times spokesperson, told Crosscut last week that while the Times had sent out a "letter of intent" about outsourcing plans to the Teamsters, the outsourcing deal was not yet final.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Mackie did not respond to voice and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Yet another problem could derail Times outsourcing plans. Officials at the Teamsters international headquarters in Washington, D.C., are watching the Seattle negotiations closely. Teamsters negotiators here, and visiting union officials from D.C., have warned the Times that the international union has veto power over any outsourcing deal between union-represented drivers and the Times. If the Times goes through with its outsourcing threat, other papers around the country might see the deal as a model for a quick way to cut costs, further reducing the union's clout with an already shrinking newspaper industry.
"My understanding is that if the Times attempts to do this outsourcing Feb. 29 without negotiating with the union, this is a strike issue for the Teamsters," says the official involved in the negotiations.