ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Highland postpones firing O-Os after last-ditch offer

(NOTE: posted this exclusive article earlier this week, but we noticed that it was mistakenly deleted shortly thereafter. Here it is again)

TORONTO — Highland Transport has agreed to hold off on firing its owner-operators, pending a second vote on a new union contract later this month, has learned.

The Steelworkers Local 1976 representing the owner-operators is urging its members to unanimously accept the revised terms of the carrier’s latest and final offer. The union stresses that it believes the company‘s threats to close the division are real if the drivers reject the new proposal, which is to be voted on Aug. 27 in Hamilton.

Two weeks ago reported that Highland — a Toronto-based truckload division of TransForce — was preparing to send out 25-50 initial termination notices (and more to follow) after the owner-ops voted down a previous offer and the union informed the carrier it would file a grievance for "unfair labor practices."

The drivers complained that the company was illegally changing the current contact in mid-stream. Those terms don’t expire until December 2008.

After meeting with union leaders earlier this month, Highland management has since made several significant amendments to the first proposal.

For starters, the carrier will no longer implement a 2.5-cent per mile rate reduction on loads exceeding 50,000 pounds. But the rate cut still applies to other lanes and empty moves.

Owner-ops will soon find out if Highland
will keep the fleet running.

Also, the company has agreed to phase-in a new fuel surcharge program requiring owner-ops to pay for the full cost of diesel up-front. That system replaces a previous fuel cap enjoyed by the owner-ops of 48 cents per liter.

The impact over time is significant. For example, at $1.25 a liter, the drivers’ cost — at a cap of 48 cents — would have been $187 on a 600-mile trip. Now, with the driver paying the full pump price, the cost would be $252 after a .4201-cents a mile surcharge paid back to him is factored in. (The surcharge rate falls to .4079 cents and 4.002 cents in 2009 and 2010, respectively).

So, if an owner-op works an average of four trips a week, at 50 weeks a year, he’ll lose nearly $10,000 today and over $12,000 in 2010.

For B-train surcharges, though, the company has agreed to add a 35 percent premium to the fleet surcharge to account for lower mpg lanes.

The company notes, however, that improvements in fuel economy "either through driving behavior or equipment" will reduce the impact of the new surcharge program.

Meanwhile, other provisions from Highland’s July offer still stand, including owner-ops co-pay the equivalent of up to 40 percent for benefits; elimination of the weekly satellite charge for each truck; and a guarantee from the company to make fuel available through is card lock network and preferred rates.


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