Accusations fly as negotiations break down

Negotiations between Teamsters and Toll break down in acrimony, with both parties accusing the other for halting talks

Accusations fly as negotiations break down
Accusations fly as negotiations break down

By Brad Gardner | June 20, 2012

Workplace negotiations between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Toll’s US operation have broken down in acrimony, with both parties accusing the other for bringing talks to a halt.

The Teamsters are negotiating wages and conditions on behalf of Toll’s Los Angeles drivers, but a meeting was canned earlier this month over a dispute concerning how its claims should be dealt with.

The Teamsters want to deal with non-economic matters first, such as job security and grievance procedures, but Toll wants to see all of its economic and non-economic claims in one go so the company is fully informed before negotiations begin.

"We are deeply troubled by Toll’s failure to keep its ostensible commitment and are left to wonder if there ever was a real intention to collaborate on a fair agreement in good faith," a June 8 letter from senior Teamsters officials to Toll Managing Director Brian Kruger says.

But Toll’s senior legal counsel Damian Sloan says the Teamsters committed to making its economic claims available before negotiations began and Toll is waiting on the union to honour it.

"It is entirely reasonable for Toll to wish to consider the entirety of the union’s claim before embarking on detailed negotiations. This is not a case of Toll adopting a deliberately obstructive position," Sloan responded in a June 13 letter.

The Teamsters officials accuse the law firm representing Toll, Katten Muchin Rosenman, of breaking off two days of scheduled talks because they dealt with job security concerns.

The officials, Fred Potter and Eric Tate, say they were given the impression the law firm would boycott future meetings unless all issues were dealt with at once.

"This demand is as unwise as it is unreasonable," their missive reads.

"It is common in both Australia and the [United] States for employers to initially tackle workplace issues of dignity, respect and job security. Indeed, throughout contract negotiations with the Transport Workers Union, Toll routinely and readily responds to TWU’s non-economic proposals first."

The letter suggests Toll is trying to drag out the process to avoid reaching an agreement.

"Such maneuvering (sic) is not viewed kindly under US labor law; neither party is entitled to dictate what proposals will be made or how they will be packaged. Can Toll afford another round of charges and complaints at the National Labor Relations Board?" the letter says.

"We urge you to allow all your US workers to exercise their rights freely, and ask that you expeditiously negotiate a fair contract for Toll’s Los Angeles drivers in the same manner that serves your Australian operations and workforce so well."

The claims drew a sharp response from Sloan, who says the union’s actions have fallen well short of Toll’s expectations.

"The union seems intent on causing damage to Toll’s brand and customer relationships by persisting in making baseless allegations against the company," he says.

Sloan touched on a recent segment on ABC news program Lateline which came after Toll committed to negotiating an agreement with its workers. The segment also aired accusations Toll says the NLRB already dismissed.

"…we were incredulous that the union continued its attacks on Toll. To say the union’s conduct in this regard was counter-productive to the cooperative relationship you claim to want is, perhaps, an understatement," Sloan told Potter and Tate.

Toll has also refused a demand from the Teamsters for the company to deal with it in the same manner it deals with the TWU. Sloan says the US is significantly different to Australia in terms of applicable laws, Toll’s competitive position and its financial performance.

He says Toll is committed to striking an agreement that balances the interests of Toll and its employees.

"The Teamsters can expect to be treated professionally and with respect and courtesy in any negotiations, noting that this is a two-way street," Sloan says.

"Toll’s relationship with the TWU goes back many decades and we have successfully concluded a number of industrial agreements with them. By contrast, our relationship with the Teamsters is very new and has been, it must be said, punctuated with unpleasantness."

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